TPG reviews: The Disenchanted Pet, by Kate Policani
A tragic waste of its premise.
Far into the future, the Earth is ruled by the ShaZha, a hyper-intelligent race of alien beings who are plagued by the violence and volatility of the human race. Supposedly intending to repair the broken societies and polluted planet, they have found the Human problem to be much more complex than they ever imagined. Zarah is a Prodigy, an obedient human, with a caring ShaZha master. Zarah wants to prove all her master’s hopes that humans can be civilized and responsible. When she is lost by her master and exposed to the other side of humanity, she must confront the possibility she might be not a valued citizen, but a pet.
My rating: 2/10
Well, this was a disappointment.
I bought The Disenchanted Pet on the basis of its premise: namely, humans kept as intelligent pets by a race of hyper-advanced aliens. The concept fascinates me, for whatever reason, and I’ve read a number of books in the past which deal with it in various ways. I wasn’t sure about the blurb, particularly its first sentence, but I figured that the book was short and cheap enough to be worth a punt.
In terms of the above-mentioned niche, sadly, The Disenchanted Pet is easily the weakest book I have come across. For that matter, it’s a serious contender for the worst piece of SF I have ever read. It was easy enough to get through, being so short, and its not like I lost much cash over it, but…well, I seriously struggled to think of good things to say about this one, and that hardly ever happens when I write these reviews.
The characters, first of all, are almost all flat or unlikable (or both), with Zarah being one of the most passive leads I have ever come across. The plot, meanwhile, is so close to nonexistent you’d need a microscope to properly see it. Even the premise is difficult to praise, seeing as its been done so much better in the past. There were several interesting ideas here, more than enough to set The Disenchanted Pet apart from similar works, but ideas alone don’t make a story.
The book follows the early life of Zarah, a “Prodigy” living in the household of a caring alien master. Zarah, when we first see her, has just completed her education and longs to make herself useful; being the good Prodigy that she is, she settles on motherhood and then begins her search for a mate (book’s words, not mine). She quickly falls for a boy names Justus and eventually manages to speak to him alone, at which point…ah, see for yourself:
“What school did you go to?” I asked. Somehow, though, that lame question led to each of us telling the other everything about ourselves. If I had scripted a dream conversation…I couldn’t have achieved a better result than our conversation. We seemed to be the same in the right ways and different in the right ways.”
Just about every issue I had with this book can be seen in the above extract, most notably a truly excessive amoung of summarising in the narrative. Such summarising, I daresay, is largely why this book is so short; it is also the reason why I never felt any real chemistry between Zarah and Justus. Given that the first half of the book revolves around the pair, that is…not good.
The quoted sequence also exemplifies the book’s apparent reluctance to present Zarah with real obstacles. In nearly all cases, a hurdle cleared with little to no input from Zarah herself. Even when Zarah is separated from her owner, there is little sense of urgency or tension. She simply potters about in her new surroundings, learning various awful truths without really making any use of them – hardly riveting stuff.
The real tragedy here is that, as mentioned before, the ideas arn’t bad. The ShaZha made for an interesting alien race, and Zarah’s relationship with her beloved SaSa would have been fascinating had it merely been shown in more detail. As things are, though, this book is just not something I can recommend. A sequel is reportedly in the works and is sounding interesting, but after this book a really can’t see myself going for it. A pity, really.