The Great Zoo of China By Matthew Reilly
3 out of 5 Stars
It’s summer, time to sit back, relax, and enjoy some brainless fun. This is the season for all those huge, plotless action blockbusters come out during this time of year; summer is made for mindless entertainment. Hence this pick, a 400+ page rollicking thriller: Jurassic Park, with dragons.
I’m absolutely serious. The book begins with the prerequisite shady death, cluing us in to serious problems within the titular Zoo. We’re then introduced to CJ Cameron (a strong female lead, yay!), expert herpetologist (she studies reptiles, get your mind out of the gutter), vet for the San Francisco Zoo, and occasional reporter for National Geographic. It seems CJ’s boss over at Nat Geo got an invite he can’t refuse: There’s a mysterious new Zoo opening up in the remote Guangdong Province of China, and CJ is the perfect person to document the grand tour for the magazine (did I mention she speaks mandarin?).
Arriving in China, we meet the mysterious corporate and political entities who are behind the creation of the zoo, and now are preparing to show it off to the western world for the first time. CJ brings along her little brother, former war-zone photographer, as her back up. We also meet the US diplomat to China, his (rather mysterious) aide, a New York Times journalist, and a popular internet blogger. The group flies from Hong Kong in a private jet with blacked out windows, finally landing at the entrance to “The Great Dragon Zoo” of China. And before you ask, yup, these are real life dragons. Turns out dragons are more or less living fossils, like the coelacath, hibernating since the age of dinosaurs. The Chinese government stumbled upon a nest of the reptiles, and decided to build a huge tourist attraction around them. What could go wrong?
Matthew Reilly knows what his reader is there for: shit hits the fan a mere hundred pages into the book (whereas Crichton waited nearly 200). Limbs start flying, blood starts gushing, and CJ and the rest of the humans trapped in the Zoo must find a way to survive the dragons and make their escape.
Alas, Reilly is no Crichton. After a bit, the plot becomes simply unbelievable. And before you point out that I’m talking believability in a book about dragons, remember: In Jurassic Park, Crichton introduced us to genetically revived dinosaurs stomping around the Caribbean, eating mathematicians, but we believed it. Jurassic Park was a hit because while the subject matter was out there, the story was so down to earth that it seemed just this side of possible.
The dragons, naturally, are very intelligent. Think velociraptors who went to school for 8 years to get their doctorate in badassery. At times, I’m pretty sure they’re smarter than most of the humans in the cast. Additionally, most of the time our heroes are saved, not by their own wit, but by the little fish-big fish scenario, where our valiant heroes are menaced by something impossibly ferocious with no hope of escape when BAM! something even bigger and more terrifying eats the first monster. Once or twice I can take, but constant little fish big fish gets a bit old.
Aw well. I certainly didn’t pick this book for its intellectual merit. And it did manage to keep me entertained for the most part. So read it, if you enjoyed Jurassic Park, or Meg, or Jaws. You’ll likely have fun, and that’s what summer is all about.