The fourth and final book in the series that began with Old Man’s War, Zoe’s Tale is largely a retelling of the events of The Last Colony from the perspective of Zoe, the adopted daughter of John and Jane Perry.
Retelling a story from another character’s perspective can be very effective. In my own reading for fiftyfiftyme this year, I particularly enjoyed Jack Campbell’s use of the device in The Tarnished Knight. There was though, more to that story than simply a different perspective. In Zoe’s Tale, there is not much else. That is both a weakness and a strength.
The weakness lies in the paucity of plot. Having read The Last Colony, you quite literally “know how this one ends”. This means that the book stands or falls on its characterisations. I would say it stands, just. Scalzi himself talks in the afterword about the difficulty of being a 38 year old man writing a story from the perspective of a 15 year old girl, but from my even more remote distance, it feels like he did a credible job. Zoe did come across as perhaps a little too adult at times, in terms of her own sense of self, but not implausibly so, and I enjoyed seeing the story through her eyes.
The other thing that makes Zoe’s Tale interesting is the reason Scalzi gives for writing it. In The Last Colony, the interaction with an intelligent local species seems to be artificially forced in its resolution. Scalzi specifically addresses the complaints of deus ex machina in his afterword to Zoe’s Tale, and cites reader dissatisfaction with that element of The Last Colony as one of the reasons he decided to write this fourth book. He insists that the details revealed in this book were always a part of the back story to the earlier novel, and that he just couldn’t fit them in to that book. Whether that is so or not, it was refreshing to read an author candidly acknowledging the validity of some criticism and specifically addressing the criticism by writing another book.
In summary, I’d say that if you read the first three books of the Old Man’s War series you would not need to read this one, but if the werewolves bugged you, and you want to find out why, Zoe’s Tale could settle that nagging annoyance.