As a lover of animals and aliens and spaceships, there is no way that Under Nameless Stars could not appeal to me. Zenn Scarlett is a 17-year-old novice Exovet (vet for alien animals) and, in this second part of her adventure, Zenn is cast out from her familiar Martian world and set adrift to a place full of unfamiliar skies, absurd and querky aliens (intelligent and less intelligent) and all under the shadow of enormous danger. For Zenn is on a mission, inherited from the first novel, and she will let nothing stand in her way, however many legs it might or might not have.
The first thing to mention is that Under Nameless Stars follows straight on from the end of Zenn Scarlett (review here). Reading the second book without having read the first could confuse. It would most certainly spoil the first so do be aware that spoilers are inevitable here. The next thing to note is that, though I enjoyed Zenn Scarlett, I found Under Nameless Stars to be a much more entertaining read and a better novel. Escaping the confines of Mars does our brave, young heroine – and the story – a lot of good. Warnings for spoilers for Book 1 having been issued, on with the review.
Zenn (with her cute but irritating alien pet Katie) and Liam have stowed away aboard the Helen of Troy, one of the great interstellar vessels driven by the Indra, alien behemoths that tunnel their way through star systems. Their initial mission, although of great personal importance to Zenn, is soon consumed within a far greater mystery – the increasing instances of vanishing Indras, complete with ship, crew and passengers. Conspiracy is everywhere and as Zenn and Liam try to stay hidden within the massive vessel they find danger almost everywhere, as well as beings of great wonder.
Zenn is a natural healer of animals and this warmth and empathy regularly drops her into troublesome hotspots as she is unable to resist the cries and trembles of beasts in fear and pain. This is intensified by Zenn’s mysterious ability to connect mentally with aliens in distress. But while this gets Zenn into difficulties, it also means that she attracts a growing number of friends. Many of them are curious but none are so wonderful as Jules, a dolphin in a walking suit (with a gambling habit) whose speech is thoroughly entertaining and endearing as well as displaying perfect unintentional comic timing. Apart from Jules, though, there are a host of alien marvels here, all beautifully imagined and fantastically brought to life. I won’t tell you about them, one of the book’s many delights is discovering them for yourself.
Zenn is a wonderful heroine, brave, strong and caring, and this empathy she has for all species is transmitted through her to us. As a result, we care deeply for the Indra. More miraculously, Zenn (and Christian Schoon) makes us feel something for some of the unutterably revolting species that Zenn also feels driven to help.
There are glimpses of romance, all nicely explained to us by Jules the walking dolphin with a taste for literature, but these are kept in check. Zenn has far more important things to think about and although these feelings do flit across her mind now and then she pushes them to the back of her thoughts.
While Under Nameless Stars may well appeal most to younger readers, I never felt myself excluded from its target audience. Christian Schoon is a fine writer and there were plenty of moments that made me laugh out loud while there were others that made me gasp with the whole ‘wonder of space’ thing that I love with good science fiction. The plot is far more satisfying than in the first novel – it felt good to be away from some of the closed mind characters of Zenn Scarlett. Under Nameless Stars is such an exciting adventure. There is a sense that anything or anywhere is possible. As a result, every chapter was a joy to read and much of it had me on the edge of my seat (Christian Schoon is a master of closing-chapter-lines). More, please!