The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Only Matthew Reilly would write a book about a zoo full of dragons. I will admit I am a huge fan of his books. I take each one as it is and I usually come out a happy camper. In this case, I have to give him a thumbs up. Let's face it, Reilly either works for you or he doesn't. He unashamedly writes escapist fiction that makes the reader feel as though they are immersed in a summer blockbuster movie. And he does it well.
I wasn't a big fan of the "Jurassic Park" book. I didn't finish it because it felt like the characters only existed to be dinosaur food. I don't care much for 'sacrificial lamb' characters. However, I find it interesting that this is Reilly's favorite book of all time. Even though I liked the movie version more than the book, I'd have to thank Crichton for inspiring one of my favorite authors in that way. So for me, I don't mind that the idea of a dragon zoo was inspired by "Jurassic Park." With all due respect, I'll take dragons over dinosaurs any day of the week.
Clearly Reilly is aware that this book would be compared to Jurassic Park and he understood that fact. I think I can get into this book because while I am a fantasist, I love the idea of real, live dragons. However, Reilly takes the fantasy version of dragons and gives it a very real, very gritty spin. I like that Reilly put so much thought into bring dragons into a millennial setting in a believable way. Many of the reasons it's a bad idea to have a dinosaur park are evident in why it was a bad idea to have a dragon zoo, but maybe even worse. Dragons don't mix well with humanity. Especially Reilly's dragons. The creators of the zoo believe that have concocted a fool-proof plan with their zoo that will supplant China over the United States as the arbiter of cultural consciousness. However, they neglected to consider that while dragons are animals, they are fiercely intelligent, and are the ultimate of predators. Frankly, I think people who believe all animals are stupid aren't paying enough attention to the natural world and clearly do not have pets. Humans like to think of themselves as the ultimate of predators, but in nature, when the odds are evened, we aren't. Even a microbe can wipe the floor with humans, case in point.
Reilly is in his high action, high gore mode, and I know I'd be covering my eyes if this was a movie. Reading the book had many wince-worthy moments, but also the awe of majestic dragons. While I didn't want the dragons to be eating people, I felt wowed by the fact that they were real and they did a lot of what dragons do. Like our intrepid heroine, CJ, I felt like the whole thing had BAD IDEA!! Written on it in huge block letters. Even with the ingenious plan the zoo creators had to keep the dragons in the zoo, I had a feeling that they dragons would find a way around it, yet their strategizing gave me a huge feeling of awe.
I think books should stand for themselves and authors shouldn't have to defend themselves for what they've written outside of the book. But at the same time, I find it very interesting to see what the thought process behind their writing is. I enjoyed reading Mr. Reilly's Q&A at the end of the book and I can see that he put a lot of hard work into writing this book. His goal is to make a book that is easy to read and enjoyable, and that's evident. At times, when I wondered why he phrased things a certain way, it made sense when I read the Q&A and saw that this was why he did it.
I loved CJ as the lead character. She is a buttkicking character and what makes it cool is that she is a woman. She proved very clearly that an action lead doesn't have to be male to own a story or to save the day. But anyone who has ever seen "Aliens" or "Alias" knows what I'm talking about. I like that CJ was the type who observed and assimilated information and acted on that information in a logical way instead of losing her cool. But at the same time, she's not just an academic. She knows how to go into action and it saves her life and others around her many times in this book. Her backstory really informs who she is a person and makes it clear that she's in the right place at the right time.
I liked the other characters, especially Hamish (CJ's brother) and Greg. But the scene-stealer is Lucky. I was a bit jealous of CJ, except for the flying parts. Not for me, that. Oh, I just adored Lucky!
I think Reilly brought it big time with this book. I'd give it 4.5 stars because I had a couple of quibbles. I won't go deep into those because they are spoilers, but I wish the ending was slightly different. I see why Reilly ended things the way he did, but part of me was still sad about that.
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