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John Scalzi – Zoe’s Tale

December 14, 2011

154. Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi (2008)
Old Man’s War, Book 4

Read my review of book:
1. Old Man’s War
2. The Ghost Brigades
2.5 The Sagan Diary
3. The Last Colony

Length: 406 pages
Genre: Science Fiction

Started: 24 November 2011
Finished: 25 November 2011

Where did it come from? Bookmooch
Why do I have it? I enjoyed Old Man’s War, so I got my hands on the sequels as soon as possible.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 02 July 2011.

The teen years are hard
enough without aliens
treating you like God.

Summary: Zoe’s Tale is a companion novel to (or a retelling of) The Last Colony. While The Last Colony told the tale of the colonization of the planet Roanoke from John Perry’s point of view, Zoe’s Tale is narrated by his adopted teenage daughter, Zoe. The Last Colony focused more on the political, tactical, and military-technological aspects of the colonization, while Zoe’s Tale is a lot more concerned with the personal, and the familial. Because Zoe is girl with a lot of family: apart from her adoptive parents, John and Jane, she also has the Obin – an entire race of aliens that regard her biological father, Charles Boutin, as their savior, and thus revere his daughter. Zoe’s always accepted the Obin’s presence in her life, but as she grows up, she’s starting to become tired of being a symbol, and when her human family is put in danger, she has to decide who she really is, and how much she’s willing to risk to save the ones she love.

Review: This book was wonderful. It must be incredibly difficult to re-write one of your own novels from a different point of view while simultaneously staying true to the perspective of your character and not getting repetitive, but Scalzi pulls it off with flair. I don’t know if I’d consider Zoe’s Tale a novel that’s complete in and of itself – because of the lack of repetitiveness, there are a lot of plot points that are glossed over pretty quickly, under the assumption that readers have already read The Last Colony. But, on the other hand, Zoe’s Tale fills in the gaps of a lot of things that The Lost Colony glossed over (at the top of the list: what happened with the fantie-hunters, and what happened to Zoe during the time she left the planet), so the result is that they complement each other perfectly, each book picking up where the other left off.

Another thing that Scalzi does wonderfully is Zoe’s voice. I’ve commented before on his range when it comes to protagonist voices, but he absolutely nails the POV of an intelligent, good-natured, snarky, but basically still teenaged girl. Even for events in the story where both Zoe and John are present, and are therefore in both books, Zoe’s got her own unique take on things, and she never feels like less than a 100% authentic, real teenager.

As a result both of how real Zoe felt, and of her unique relationships, Zoe’s Tale had me getting sniffly multiple times over the course of the book. That’s mostly a good thing: I didn’t feel like the story was being emotionally manipulative, but was rather genuinely affecting, and all of its drama was well-earned. However, having to wipe away tears every fifty pages or so is decidedly inconvenient when one is reading this in company after Thanksgiving dinner. Hopefully everyone else was so absorbed in the football game that they didn’t notice how absorbed I was in this book. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I don’t know how well this book would stand alone; it’s so bound up with The Last Colony that I can’t say whether it would work separately from the rest of the series. But it’s a great book, and the series as a whole has been hugely enjoyable, so definitely recommended.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Bart’s Bookshelf, Bookshelves of Doom, Devourer of Books, Presenting Lenore, Stainless Steel Droppings, Stella Matutina and more over at the Book Blog Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: I lifted up my dad’s PDA and counted off the seconds with the two thousand other people in the room.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. December 14, 2011 8:27 am

    I thought this book was very entertaining, but I thought Zoe was a bit too good, like maybe she had a scriptwriter, or a clever author giving her lines…

    • December 26, 2011 12:52 pm

      rhapsodyinbooks – That’s totally true, but I have a feeling that if someone transcribed the way a teenager *actually* talks, no one on Earth would want to read it. :)

  2. December 14, 2011 9:53 am

    I decided to skip this one when I found out it was retreading the same ground as The Last Colony, but maybe I will give it a try now!

    • December 26, 2011 12:53 pm

      Laura – Scalzi’s very good about not duplicating too much explanation, which might make it a little difficult for people who pick this one up cold, but is great for people who want to read both.

  3. December 14, 2011 12:27 pm

    I really need to get back to this series…

    • December 26, 2011 12:53 pm

      Kailana – Absolutely! They’re such a great combination of action and humor and heart.

  4. December 14, 2011 6:11 pm

    I think this one is my favourite of the series. The narrator of the audiobook version, by the way, does an awesome job.

    • December 26, 2011 12:54 pm

      Darren – My library doesn’t have these audiobooks, more’s the pity! But I can imagine that these would be great in that format.

  5. December 14, 2011 8:05 pm

    This is actually the first book of the series I read, and then I read it again after reading the other three, so I can say with moderate authority that it holds up quite well by itself, but is so much better with the background of the other books. And I went way past sniffly, both times.

    • December 26, 2011 12:55 pm

      Alison – Great to have someone who’s had both experiences weigh in! And I wasn’t crying, it’s just that there was a lot of dust in the air and it was making my eyes water, yeah, that’s right, totally just the allergies. :-D

      • December 26, 2011 1:08 pm

        Yes! I hate that… dust… that’s always flying around. :)

  6. December 16, 2011 11:04 am

    Referring to Laura’s comment, this is definitely NOT one to skip. It really and truly is not a rehashing of the events in the last colony. As a character-driven story it does so much more than act as a viewpoint of events from a different angle, although it does that very well.

    Scalzi said at the end of The Last Colony that he was done with the universe, and I’m so glad that he changed his mind. It allowed him to answer one criticism some folks had with the end of TLC, that he got them all out of trouble without really showing how it happened. They show that in Zoe’s Tale. It also allowed him to try his hand at YA fiction and he did a marvelous job.

    You are so right when you talk about his ability to capture various voices. Like Heinlein occasionally was able to do (The Menace from Earth being a good example), Scalzi inhabits the voice of a teenage girl quite effectively.

    Zoe’s Tale wasn’t the only book I got sniffly over in this series. :)

    And for those of you who haven’t read it, Scalzi did a novelette set after the events of The Ghost Brigade, told from Jane Sagan’s point of view. It is really good. You can either listen to or read in its entirety the story here:

    Just scroll down on that page to start reading.

    Wonderful review, you have me wanting to read it all over again.

    • December 26, 2011 12:58 pm

      Carl – I loved The Sagan Diaries, and was really impressed at how completely Scalzi was able to switch his narrative voice around.

      And no, this wasn’t the only book in the series that made me sniffly, but this one definitely made me the MOST sniffly (daddy-daughter drama gets me every damn time), and it was the only one where I was reading it in the company of other people, where my sniffliness would have been noticed.


  1. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi « The World Writ Small
  2. John Scalzi – Fuzzy Nation | Fyrefly's Book Blog
  3. John Scalzi – The Human Division | Fyrefly's Book Blog

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