Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Great Zoo of China

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Great Zoo of China (Gallery, 2015).

Regular readers of the Bookshelf know that I really try to avoid spoilers. In the case of The Great Zoo of China, the new novel by Matthew Reilly, I paused over the name in Entertainment Weekly, read some words like "animal previously unknown to science," and looked away with a smile, thinking "Yeti."

Nope. My spoiler-avoidance was ruined when I opened the book and saw Chinese dragons on the endpapers. Ah, well. Perhaps there will be a story about abominable snowmen in a zoo some other day.

It won't take readers very long to see where this book is going. It's Jurassic Park with dragons, a female lead, the Chinese army, and lots of machine guns. It's a thriller that acknowledges its roots - Michael Crichton's book is mentioned at least twice in the text with thematic callbacks peppered throughout it - and is super fast-paced, with darn little character development as things fall completely apart. The world-building is incredibly interesting. I love the speculation about how the Chinese government would develop such a zoo in secrecy, how they'd construct it and staff it. It's simply a much larger enterprise than anything that some billionaire could concoct on Isla Nublar; there are important people in the government and military who, after years and years of consultation with marketing people from Disney, are convinced that this zoo will turn their nation into the dominant cultural center of the planet, and they're willing to kill to ensure that happens.

As for the whole business of things falling apart and dragons eating people, well, it's been done before. Cassandra "CJ" Cameron is a pretty fun heroine, although possessed of superhuman stamina for all she and her fellow VIPs endure. Some of the dragon battles whiz by so quickly you'll forget to eat any popcorn. A big change in the narrative hinges on CJ communicating with one of the dragons, which, even in a book about dragons ranging in size up to big airplane-length beasts, is faintly ridiculous. I could have done with two fewer close calls and sixty-eleven fewer explosions and more about the politics of the piece, but should he ever sell the movie rights, close calls and explosions will be what this story's all about. Very mild recommendation for popcorn eaters.

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