By Ekta R. Garg
February 11, 2015
Rated: Borrow it
When a woman finds herself in the depths of China surrounded by fairy tale monsters come to life, she must use every ounce of her strength and intelligence to escape the enclosed space. What she doesn’t know, however, is that Chinese officials will do everything they can to keep her from getting out and reporting to the world the fiasco she has witnessed. Author Matthew Reilly brings to readers this high-octane plot in the fun but exhausting novel The Great Zoo of China.
Dr. Cassandra Jane “CJ” Cameron gets invited to represent National Geographic as part of an incredibly select group of journalists and dignitaries that will visit China. Chinese officials can’t wait to show the Americans their brand new zoo and promise CJ and the others something that will defy their expectations. An expert on reptiles, CJ wonders just why she received an invitation to the display.
She finds out soon enough. After a ride in a plane with blacked-out windows CJ, accompanied by her brother and photographer, Hamish, arrive at the zoo with the other members of their party. While everything looks like a normal zoo in the beginning, the big reveal yields exactly what the Chinese promised: scientists there have found ancient dragon eggs, allowed them to hatch, and bred new dragons. In order to prepare the beasts for the world, the Chinese have built a zoo specifically to house their dragons.
In the first several minutes of seeing the magnificent beasts, however, CJ notices something about them that doesn’t quite square away with everything she knows about reptiles. Her concerns become justified when the dragons become aggressive. After several run-ins with the dragons CJ discovers the horrifying truth: the dragons don’t just want to kill the people who shackled them. They want to escape—and they’ve got an active plan in place to make it happen. Now CJ has to formulate a plan to fight back, which includes battling the demons of her own past.
Author Matthew Reilly offers readers a book with the highest level of action, and he doesn’t let the pace drop for a single page. His writing style conveys the idea of dragons in a believable way, which makes the first part of the book a fun ride. Readers will find themselves grinning at the entire premise as they follow CJ through the Chinese outback.
When the dragon attacks begin, however, Reilly, increases the level of action and doesn’t give his readers any time to breathe. After a while readers will start to flag, and what begins as a fun adventure will make them heave a sigh of relief when it’s all over. Action may be a good thing, but in answer to Reilly’s question in the “Ask the Author” section of the book, yes: a book can have too much action.
The inclusion of so many events to challenge the characters causes Reilly to sacrifice some character development. As the protagonist CJ comes out with the best deal; readers will understand why she’s doing what she’s doing and what makes her hesitate or pull away. Also, in choosing a female protagonist Reilly shies away from normal thrillers, which is a welcome change for any reader.
Unfortunately other characters become reduced to either stock characterization or under development. Reilly sticks with tropes that are tried and true, drawing thick black lines between the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” Offering more information about the characters would have added dimension to the story and given the pace a break, but Reilly chooses to play it safe with his plot.
Frenetic pace aside, readers will probably enjoy The Great Zoo of China and I recommend they borrow this book from their local libraries.