Tag Archives: Strange Chemistry

Review: Zenn Scarlett, Christian Schoon

ZennScarlett.143947“Zenn Scarlett is a bright, determined, occasionally a-little-too-smart-for-her-own-good 17-year-old girl training hard to become an exoveterinarian. That means she’s specializing in the treatment of exotic alien life forms, mostly large and generally dangerous. Her novice year of training at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars will find her working with alien patients from whalehounds the size of a hay barn to a baby Kiran Sunkiller, a colossal floating creature that will grow up to carry a whole sky-city on its back.

But after a series of inexplicable animal escapes from the school and other near-disasters, the Cloister is in real danger of being shut down by a group of alien-hating officials. If that happens, Zenn knows only too well the grim fate awaiting the creatures she loves.

Now, she must unravel the baffling events plaguing her school, before someone is hurt or killed, before everything she cares about is ripped away from her and her family forever. To solve this mystery – and live to tell about it – Zenn will have to put her new exovet skills to work in ways she never imagined, and in the process learn just how powerful compassion and empathy can be.”

Starting with the obvious, the cover art for Zenn Scarlett is absolutely BEAUTIFUL. I’m not big on SF in general, but I absolutely HAD to have this one because it’s ridiculously pretty. Yes, I will buy a copy for my shelf when it’s released on that fact alone. I’m a terrible human being, I know. And I’ve no doubt plenty of other readers will find it irresistibly shiny also. The magpies among us will be appeased. I’ve done some rummaging about to see who’s responsible for such gorgeousness, and it appears to be a company called “Argh! Oxford”. I’m just ten minutes or so from Oxford, so I will be re-mortgaging my house whenever my own novel is finished in an attempt to get these guys to work with me. I will sell my car, my PC, goddammit even a kidney. Whatever it takes. But I digress.

Zenn Scarlett is like nothing else I’ve ever read. And in today’s market, that’s one hell of an achievement. Hats off, seriously.  I thought that Schoon’s world-building and characterisation were excellent. I loved all the different creatures, and the respective roles that they fill. It’s absolute genius, and I’m not going to give any examples because I don’t want to spoil any of it for you, you’re just going to have to trust me. One thing I will say though, is I want a rikkaset. I really, really do.

Schoon serves up a unique concept, amazing world-building and enjoyable characters. Zenn is good fun to read, she’s far from perfect, but she’s determined and stubborn, and her heart is in the right place, I’m all for that. The only thing that lets the novel down, for me, is the plot. I found it to be a little weak in places, and it pains me to say it because so much about the book is amazing, but elements of the plot towards the end of the novel felt rushed to me, and the ending itself was a bit of a let-down. It’s a shame, it really is. I wanted to love this unconditionally. It suffers a little from repetition as well, with Schoon labouring several points more than necessary, in my humble opinion of course. Again I don’t want to go anywhere near spoilers, but you’ll spot what I mean as soon as you dig in. Does it matter? Not really, slightly iffy plot, sub-optimal ending and irritating repetition pale into insignificance against the beauty of the backdrop and the imagination behind all those animals. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. It only loses one star for me, because the brilliance of the Good balances outweighs the niggles of the Bad.

Zenn Scarlett is a unique and breathtaking journey, and one that I would definitely recommend.


4A PhoenixFantasy Four Star Read


[Zenn Scarlett is published by Strange Chemistry, and is due for release on 7th May 2013]



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Posted by on March 7, 2013 in Reviews


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Zenn Scarlett cover art

I have to admit, cover art posts aren’t something I’d usually indulge in, but this landed in my inbox this morning and it’s too gorgeous not to share:


Beautiful isn’t it? I’m not big on Sci-Fi truth be told, but I’m getting more and more  into YA and this definitely looks like one I might enjoy. It just shows the power of an outstanding cover, it can draw you into things that you might otherwise not even have considered. Am I horribly shallow? not to answer that I think. Anyhoo, here’s the blurb;

“Zenn Scarlett is a bright and occasionally a-little-too-smart-for-her-own-good 17-year-old girl training hard to become an exoveterinarian. She specializes in the treatment of exotic alien life forms, mostly large and generally dangerous. Her novice year of training at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars was going well – until there are a series of inexplicable animal escapes from the school that Zenn finds herself blamed for. As if this isn’t enough to be dealing with, her father vanishes under strange circumstances, and Zenn is worried that she has started hearing the thoughts of the creatures around her…

With the help of Liam, a towner boy, and Hamish, an alien bug also training at the clinic, Zenn must try to find her father, rescue the animals and unravel the mystery of who is behind the attacks on the school. And all without failing her first year.”

Zenn Scarlett is due out in May this year. One to watch.

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Posted by on February 9, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Review: Pantomime, Laura Lam

15797050“R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass—remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone—are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.

But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.”

Another YA read, which isn’t like me, but Strange Chemistry hooked me in with Broken and I wanted to see if all their titles were as original. This one certainly scores high for originality, even though initially you’re going to think it’s just a poor imitation of The Night Circus. And this was the problem for me, if you’ve read The Night Circus you’re not going to be able to help but compare it, and when you compare it it comes out a clear loser. It’s worth persevering though because Pantomime has one of the most unexpected twists I’ve ever come across, and I think it’s a matter of genius that it’s so well hidden from the blurbs because it’s so, so refreshing to encounter a genuine surprise like that in a novel. The thing is though, I chatted to a few people about this one, people who would never read YA and begged me to reveal the twist, and their reactions were all exactly the same, they all went “Oh, errrr, that’s weird. Hmm, not sure I’d fancy reading that.” Which makes me wonder if hiding it so well is clever or just sneaky. Or, I suppose, clever on two levels. But either way, it’s impressively done.

Even though this one scores full marks for the surprise factor, and is nicely written, it didn’t really work for me. I found the world-building to be frustratingly vague, and the ending was hugely unsatisfactory. One of those where you reach the end and then let out a genuine “Garrghh, bloody hell!” in annoyance.

Lam clearly has a wondrous imagination and a nice way with words, and this is definitely not your average teen novel. From the acknowledgements she’s certainly got a lot of friends in the Angry Robot world too. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, and don’t mind something quick and light, like a little snack between meals, go for it. But if you like your Fantasy to be involved, detailed and complete, this one isn’t for you.

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Posted by on January 1, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Review: Broken, A E Rought

13515848Imagine a modern spin on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein where a young couple’s undying love and the grief of a father pushed beyond sanity could spell the destruction of them all.

A string of suspicious deaths near a small Michigan town ends with a fall that claims the life of Emma Gentry’s boyfriend, Daniel. Emma is broken, a hollow shell mechanically moving through her days. She and Daniel had been made for each other, complete only when they were together. Now she restlessly wanders the town in the late Fall gloom, haunting the cemetery and its white-marbled tombs, feeling Daniel everywhere, his spectre in the moonlight and the fog.

When she encounters newcomer Alex Franks, only son of a renowned widowed surgeon, she’s intrigued despite herself. He’s an enigma, melting into shadows, preferring to keep to himself. But he is as drawn to her as she is to him. He is strangely… familiar. From the way he knows how to open her locker when it sticks, to the nickname she shared only with Daniel, even his hazel eyes with brown flecks are just like Daniel’s.

The closer they become, though, the more something inside her screams there’s something very wrong with Alex Franks. And when Emma stumbles across a grotesque and terrifying menagerie of mangled but living animals within the walls of the Franks’ estate, creatures she surely knows must have died from their injuries, she knows.”

I need to mention first and foremost that this is really isn’t my usual cup of tea, but I’ve been a Frankenstein fan ever since I read it at school, and I’m a fan of Angry Robot so I couldn’t resist having a peek at this one from their Strange Chemistry crew.

In Broken, Rought gives us a High School setting with a brooding hero and a clumsy heroine. Said brooding hero ends up being lab partners at school with our heroine, and his Dad works at the local hospital…sound familiar at all?

For that alone I should’ve put this one down, (not that I mind Twilight, I really don’t, I’m happy enough with any series that gets youngsters reading, but I’m not a fan of the endless try-hards it spawned). Non-Twilight fans don’t despair, Rought’s writing is a million miles from Meyer, and that’s what had me glued to this one. Right from the off, Broken is dripping with beautiful, vividly imagined, gorgeously descriptive language that draws you in and wraps you up in its magic and absolutely refuses to let you go. Brooding teenage boys and ‘should I, shouldn’t I?” teen girls are really not my thing, but there’s a magic to this one that transcends the immediate subject matter. The romance aspect here is massive, and I’m normally the first person to whinge about that but there’s just something about the way Rought writes that had me completely eating out of her hand. I’m 34 years old, and pretty hard on the outside, but even I was curled up in bed feeling like a 15 year old, swooning over Alex as I read this. Any author that can do that, gets my vote. It’s really, really impressive that she took me right out of my comfort zone, and made it stupidly comfortable around me. Hats off for that, really.

The pace here is deliciously slow and considered, and whilst I can appreciate that that’s going to drive some readers up the wall, I loved it, and I think it’s a brave move in a genre that’s so often all about the action. It’s refreshing. You’ll get 3/4 way into this one before anything actually happens, but if you’re like me you’re not going to be mind because you’re lost in Emma’s world and there’s so much to look at, and so many emotions to explore. And the build up to what you know is coming is deliciously tense and dark, and the language is so beautiful along the way that you can just indulge yourself and enjoy it. Or at least, I did.

The problem with this one is, from the blurb, you know exactly what’s going to happen. Well, not exactly, but you get the general idea and it’s a shame because whilst parts of this were still impressively jaw-dropping, there could have been some real shattering of bones as jaws hit the floor if the blurb could have been a little more restrained and the opening not littered with quite so many clues.

I genuinely couldn’t have loved this more. The happy ending was, perhaps, well not perhaps it was definitely a little overdone, but I’d imagine that’s a YA concession and as I’m not used to the genre I can let that go. It didn’t matter, I was so taken with the originality of a Frankenstein re-imagining (has there been one before? I don’t think there has you know), and the gorgeousness of Rought’s writing that I was sold whatever happened. Even when, and this is hard without spoilers, but even when the shizzle hits the fanizzle and Emma does…pretty much nothing…I didn’t care. My God, what was Rought done to me?? I feel like I should go and read something dark and gritty to recover.

In a nutshell, I found Broken absolutely spellbinding. Many thanks to Strange Chemistry for the ARC, and I will definitely be getting myself a copy next month. Gorgeousness!


Posted by on December 18, 2012 in Uncategorized


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