[Book Review] Under Nameless Stars

Under Nameless Stars / Christian Schoon (Powell's Books)
After barely surviving a plot to destroy her school and its menagerie of alien patients, could things get worse for novice exoveterinarian Zenn Scarlett? Yes, they could: her absent father has been kidnapped.

Desperate to find 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 Martian boy who is either very fond of her, very dangerous to her, or both. On the verge of learning the truth about her missing 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.
I've come to have high hopes for books published by Angry Robot.  Unfortunately, Under Nameless Stars came nowhere near what I've come to expect from this publisher.  I failed to notice when selecting this title that it was a sequel, an unfortunate slip on  my part, but not something that should ruin the enjoyment of the book.

I feel that Under Nameless Stars relies far too much on the previous novel.  Rather than having it's own plot building on the story told in the previous novel, it instead reads as the second half of a book ripped in half.  Characters are introduced as if we're well familiar with them when 100 pages in it's their first mention in any form.  Even the book teaser relies very heavily on the previous novel.

There are some hints of YA troupes (I just can't look at silver eyes the same anymore these days).  Perhaps the most unforgiving aspect is the reliance of deus ex machina.  Zenn Scarlett has a talent as an exoveterinarian, working with animals of alien and earth origin.  However largely she progresses through her adventures and escapades by things just working out rather than for any solid reason except it was needed for the plot.  Even the hinge point of the plot assumes an overwhelming amount of faith on a largely untested biological experiment.  By the time the villain is revealed the reader is likely unsurprised, all evidence points to him early on.  Then he behaves as a Bond villain, revealing his sinister purpose and methods, secure that the captured protagonist will never escape their merciless fate.

Schoon has come up with some fantastic ideas for aliens and non-humanoid life forms, and I love the expansion of dolphins into an accepted sentient race with the ability to communicate and co-occupy the same environment with humans and other species.  On the flip side the sheer number of named species is a bit overwhelming and hard to keep track of.  Few of the alien races are really involved enough in the story to stick out, and instead they begin to feel as filler to solidify Under Nameless Stars' as a science fiction novel.  The book does have some neat technology ideas, though a few of them I'm a bit dubious of, and one case some possibly dubious genetic tinkering.

I may have liked this book more had I not expected more of it.  If you have read the previous book and enjoyed it, I do recommend reading this, I'm sure it will pair well.  Unfortunately, I did not find this book satisfying.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.


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