This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Jody Lynn Nye gained attention when she collaborated on Anne McCaffrey’s Doona series, but her storytelling skills stand on their own in this novel, the tale of a space-faring doctor and her animal companions.
Environmental conditions often make colonization difficult. Enter Shona Taylor, trained to assess hazardous bacteria, chemicals and viruses. She works with a veritable menagerie: mice, rabbits, a cat, a dog and an alien species called an ottle. By capitalizing on their heightened senses, they all function as part of a highly trained diagnostic team, searching out and neutralizing dangers that could affect human colonists.
After a personal tragedy, Shona questions her commitment to this work, until an incredible opportunity comes her way, involving disease research on recently colonized planets. Now working for an independent corporation, she and her animals travel from world to world, only to realize that they’re following the path of a deadly disease: one wiping out whole colonies within days.
This book, the first in a planned series, moves quite slowly through the story’s first half. The primary conflict doesn’t manifest until a third of the way through, and a lot goes on before that, simply to establish Shona’s character. Perhaps all of this is necessary, to set Shona’s personality in the reader’s mind, but it seems overly protracted. In some ways, this novel suffers from “first-in-a-series” disease, where an author includes many elements designed to prep readers for future stories.
That said, Shona’s character is likeable and sympathetic. Although a young woman facing incredibly difficult circumstances, Nye writes her as a woman of strength and courage. Unfortunately, many of the minor characters are only transitory, coming and going as Shona jumps from planet to planet.
The most interesting secondary characters are the animals, and the ottle (Chirwl) in particular. The author gives him a studious personality in spite of his outer, playful-seeming form, and his curiosity about all things human provides some social commentary.
Although slow to get underway, Taylor’s Ark soon picks up the pace and delivers a satisfying story. The series promises more good tales to come.