Zenn Scarlett’s novice year of exoveterinarian training on Mars isn’t quite going to plan…I enjoyed Zenn Scarlett as I was reading it (apart from some minor weird physics) but it didn't stand up all that well to retrospective contemplation and discussion. The redneck Martian farmers, particularly, continued to bother me. Happily, Under Nameless Stars isn't set on Mars at all, so the closest thing to a redneck is Liam, Zenn's sort-of love interest. I say sort of, because they spend most of the story apart and the ending very much emphasises that there are more important things to teenage girls than finding and settling down with a boy. That made me very happy.
After barely surviving a plot to destroy her school and its menagerie of alien patients, could things at the Ciscan cloister get any worse? Yes. Yes they could: Zenn’s absent father Warra Scarlett has suddenly ceased all communication with her. Desperate to learn what’s become of him, Zenn stows away aboard the Helen of Troy, a starliner powered by one of the immense, dimension-jumping beasts known as Indra.
With her is Liam Tucker, a towner boy who is either very fond of her, very dangerous to her, or both. On the verge of learning the truth about her dad, Zenn’s quest suddenly catapults her and Liam thousands of light years beyond known space, and into the dark heart of a monstrous conspiracy. Braving a gauntlet of lethal environments and unearthly life forms, her courage and exovet skills will now be tested as never before.
With the fate of entire worlds hanging in the balance, Zenn is racing headlong into trouble… again.
Back to the setting, though. Picking up right where the first book left off, Zenn and Liam find themselves in a container on an interstellar spaceship. Most of the book, then, is set in space on ships among a variety of sentient alien species, a few humans and some alien animals (for Zenn, exo-vetinarian to heal, of course). My favourite character in Under Nameless Stars was Jules, a dolphin (yes, from Earth) who spends most of his time in a "walksuit", which is basically what it sounds like. I was actually a bit sceptical of him at first, until it was revealed that he was only 18 — calibrated in Earth/human years, as far as I could tell — and hence allowed to be a bit of an idiot. I say that in the nicest possible way, however. He's very into mystery and adventure novels and frequently orients his expectations based on popular tropes. It comes across as so ridiculous as to be funny, which is part of what made me like the character. The only thing that could have improved him further, in my opinion, is a more in-depth exploration of the walksuit as a "blending in with other sentient life-forms" aid and more time spent dealing with swimming vs walking.
Ultimately, I would characterise Under Nameless Stars as an action-packed space adventure story. It doesn't take itself too seriously and Zenn gets into strife very frequently. It was an engaging read and, unlike some books, I found myself not bothered by the physics of it all, mostly because all the physics — including the quantum tunnelling space horses — was pretty hand-wave-y and not specific enough to be problematic.
That said, I wouldn't recommend it to readers after a hard science fiction novel. It's probably closer to space opera, although I admit I'm a little hazy on that definition. I recommend it to anyone looking for a fun space adventure and, of course, to anyone who enjoyed the first book. As I said at the start, I definitely wouldn't recommend reading Under Nameless Stars without reading Zenn Scarlett first. And don't forget to keep an eye out for my interview with the author in a few weeks!
4 / 5 stars
First published: April 2014, Strange Chemistry
Series: Yes. Book 2 of 2.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley