The Great Zoo of China (Review)

by Matthew Reilly

Included at the end of the UK Hardback edition of The Great Zoo of China there's an interview with the author, Matthew Reilly. In this interview it's revealed that Matthew's favourite book of all time is Jurassic Park, and when you read The Great Zoo of China, this becomes very apparent.

The story is a familiar one, in a secret location (in this instance the Guangdong Province of China) a theme park/zoo has been created filled with exotic and dangerous animals. Dragons.

Before opening the zoo to the world, the head of operations has organised for a specialist in the field of Herpetology (CJ Cameron, our main female character), journalists from the New York Times and the US Chinese Ambassador and his aid to visit the zoo for an exciting preview. However, during this exclusive pre-opening tour, things start to go wrong…

Sounds familiar? That's because it is. It's Jurassic Park, with dragons.

In fact, it's probably easier and quicker for us to sit here and list the differences than it is the similarities between this book and the elements from the Michael Crichton novels and the three Jurassic Park movies that this book leans heavily on for inspiration. But we won't, we want you to take a look and see for yourselves, here's a quick breakdown of events *spoilers* (only if you haven't seen the Jurassic Park Trilogy or read the Jurassic Park books):

The fact that are so many parallels with the Jurassic Park franchise definitely reduces the impact that this book has. It's just too similar. Matthew Reilly has inadvertently spoilt many of the surprises of his own story by virtue of the fact that you've already read them and seen them before. Sure, do Jurassic Park with dragons, but why did it have to be a preview of a park about to open? Why couldn't it already be open and ready to go? Why did it have to feature an automated tour which was disrupted by an attack? Why did the power have to be shut down? The basic premise could have been used but there's so much room to manoeuvre there that it seems completely pointless sticking so close to a story that will already be well known to millions of people.

But let's focus on the positives, this book keeps you reading, and you really blast through it. The action is well written and the dragons are described well and brought to life with invention and imagination. Some of the imagery of garbage trucks being thrown 100 feet through the air by the talons of a giant dragon are spectacular, really enjoyable, and mean that you're constantly turning the pages. The book really excels when Matthew Reilly focusses on his own ideas. The setting of China is well chosen, and the entire backstory related to the Chinese government's determination to see the zoo succeed – and the consequences of this – make for the most interesting elements. I won't spoil these areas here as they're original, however, the use of random dragon attacks to escape certain seemingly inescapable situations is used too often in the latter stages of the story. Towards the climax we don't quite jump the shark, but there's a little too much reliance on the suspension of disbelief, which is a shame, as this is where the author stretches his wings and starts writing some truly original story elements.

The book does do a brilliant job of referencing popular dragon mythology and bringing that into the context of the rest of the novel, something dragon fans will really enjoy. There's a number of popular quotes from other dragon texts interspersed throughout the novel (in the Crichton style chapter interludes, First Evolution, Second Evolution, Third Evolution etc. rather than chapter numbers.) The zoo itself is also excellently brought to life through a combination of detailed imaginative descriptions, diagrams and charts. By the end of the novel, you feel like you really have escaped to an exotic, remote destination, a testament to the author's ability to conjure a setting for the novel to take place.

If you're a fan of dragons and you like a great summer blockbuster action movie, then this is definitely a book you'll enjoy. The writing style is easy to read, it's engaging, and it keeps you turning the pages as our protagonists jump from one action set piece to another. Regardless of the fact that this is cloned from the DNA of Jurassic Park, you'll still find yourself enjoying the book, but I just wish it was 1993 and I was 9 ½ years old again, to read this in a world where Jurassic Park didn't exist would have been exhilarating.

Dragon Zoo Recommends:

For fans of non-stop, page turning action and adventure, this story is a must for you, especially if you love dragons. With amazing dragon sequences and break neck pacing, this is a book you'll speed through and thoroughly enjoy.

However, this is not quite The Great Zoo of China that the book title promises, more like The Alright Zoo of China. Especially if you're in any way familiar with the Jurassic Park franchise.

In fact, there's a line on page 80 of this book that summarises our review perfectly:

“It's all pretty cool and impressive…if you never saw fucking Jurassic Park."

Watch our video review on Dragon Zoo's Official YouTube Channel now:

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