This is, almost entirely, a delightful book. It’s a little like Stardust, a little like The House of the Spirits, and a little like The Edge Chronicles, but mostly like itself.
It’s classic YA quest fantasy – an early-teenage girl comes to grips with her Special Nature, begins to explore the Forbidden Greeny Jungle (yes, that’s its real name) with her best friend, and then when he’s injured decides to go on a quest for the medicine that will save him.
She lives in a delightful world full of whimsically sketched and pleasantly inadequately explained biotech (genetotech? Techneculture? Clever plants, anyway) with light bulbs that grow in pots and can be transplanted into the walls of your house, CPU seeds that grow into PCs, and flowers as currency. Oddly, there are some others around (non-biological digi-book and compass, and a reference to cars being either hydrogen or flora powered) but no elaboration on them. It’s a very animistic world, too – Zahrah’s compass talks to her, there are Talking Animals both benign and predatory, and we’re left in no doubt that she considers the animals and even some plants around her as intelligent and sapient as she is.
The only problem I have with it is that it’s narrated in the first person by Zahrah herself, and she’s basically not that interesting a person to share headroom with. She isn’t all that curious about what’s going on around her, and rarely initiates anything that the plot doesn’t require her to, and whilst we’re told that she grows and changes it’s hard to see that for ourselves.
For that matter, the promise of the phrase “born dada”, and the name “Zahrah Tsami”, doesn’t seem to be fulfilled – whilst there’s a great deal of Odd Stuff going on, it all makes sense in context. It’s all explicable and can be related to the main plotline.