As a pretty die-hard Matthew Reilly fan, I was pretty keen to read his latest action novel. I loved his earlier work, like Ice Station and Contest, and have been to see him speak and have him sign my books – I was impressed! However, I’ll admit that his more recent work has leant a little more towards gratuitous action and violence than actual plot or character development. Perhaps due to upheaval in his personal life (which I won’t go into detail about), he seems to have been off form for a few years. So, I was a little apprehensive picking up Great Zoo.
Things got off to a great start; I loved Reilly’s concept. To sum things up, the Chinese have come up with a grand scheme to put them on par with the cultural titan that is America. They’ve invited politicians, environmentalists, and journalists to have a sneak peak of their pride and joy, and are determined that reviews will be positive, no matter what. However, Jurassic Park style, the best laid plans are destined to end in disaster when you put ancient, intelligent creatures in a zoo and expect them to behave. The main character, CJ was a woman (a first for Reilly), which was a nice change of pace, and her partner in crime is her brother, which rules out any lame love-at-first-sight-amongst-carnage rubbish. I thought that the reasoning behind the existence of the animals was plausible (and believable!), and I liked the political spin on the project – though I’m not sure Chinese readers would be so keen to hear about their amazing working capabilities but lack of imagination…
As the story rapidly developed, I was hooked. I raced through the book alongside the characters as they fought to escape the hellhole they’d landed themselves in. The action was intense, the animals interesting, the mythology fascinating – I couldn’t put it down, and am keen for a sequel (here that Matthew? I’ve already figured out how it could work, call me!).
Has Reilly returned to form? Yes and no. This was an epic action book, definitely in the vein of Jurassic Park (which I also love). I was hooked, and I liked the premise a lot. I felt the book had a little more soul than, for example, the last Jack West book, which was more action for the sake of action than anything else. However, there could have been more development as far as characters and creatures go, and there was probably still some gratuitous violence that I could have done without (although I appreciate the imagination behind someone’s lungs being sucked out of their body…).
Let’s be frank. This book was never written to be a literary masterpiece. Reilly also never claims that it was meant to be! He likes to write books that read like action movies, and he achieved exactly that. I struggled to ‘rate’ this book. If you’re looking for a book that immerses you in the action and as you hooked, then this is great. However, if you’re looking for great character development, then this probably isn’t the book for you. It’s fast paced and explosive, with no time for soliloquies to get to know people. Really, if you know Reilly at all, you know the kind of book you’re getting into – and if you’ve loved his early work, then you’ll probably love Great Zoo. Definitely worth a read, as far as I’m concerned! I’ll remain a loyal fan, and keep hoping that his books only get better from here.
I received a copy of The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly from Netgalley in exchange for a review and my honest opinion.