An Animal Life: The Beginning is a combination medical mystery/romance comedy about the students and faculty of a veterinary college. We follow our young characters through orientations, initiations, parties, classes and even a talent show. The descriptions of a mostly-carefree college experience are suddenly upended when a medical mystery that threatens both animals and humans demands our protagonists’ attention. With a heavy dose of humor and gruesome veterinary surgery, An Animal Life is really a slam-dunk if you work or study in a zoological field.
The book is well edited, with few errors. It is substantive, and if the veterinary world that the authors have crafted for you is a place you want to spend a lot of time in, there is plenty here and more coming in the following books. As a medical mystery and a romance novel, it mostly succeeds, and there are a number of funny, well-written and quotable passages. The book also gives solid college advice, like study your teachers and the way they test and grade versus the material itself. While I’m normally not a fan of images in prose, the diagrams and lab notes provided are interesting and in some instances help paint a better picture of the characters.
An Animal Life is like a cross between a Brett Easton Ellis novel (there are a lot of pop-culture references to go along with the dissections) and a veterinary college primer. Oddly, this is not a bad combination. Where the book suffers is in relating information to the reader in a succinct and easily understandable way. If you’re like me and want to really understand the world of the book you’re reading, you’ll often stop to look up things you don’t know. While a veterinarian might laugh hysterically over an interaction between two of the characters, it will often be mired in so much clinical jargon that readers of even above-average intelligence will be left scratching their heads, looking to Google, or checking the glossary in the back of the book for answers. When the author does cater to the uninitiated reader, such as in an excellent description of formalin, you feel like you’re looking in on an interesting world. I wish there was more of that.
Unfortunately, the sheer volume of medical references will almost certainly take the reader out of the story if they haven’t studied (or are interested in) the zoological field. With that said, I would recommend to the authors that they shop this to veterinary colleges and get it made part of a curriculum somewhere. I could easily see this book being part of the reading requirements for a first-year vet student. For those knowledgeable on and interested in the science of animals, this is easily a hands-down 5-star book. For the average reader looking for a medical mystery/romance, they will find an at times confusing but overall well-written 4-star book here.