A far cry from Matthew Reilly’s last novel The Tournament, The Great Zoo Of China
really does up the pace considerably. When your plot is essentially Jurassic Park with dragons instead of dinosaurs, though, it would be impressive if it managed to be
dull. The Great Zoo Of China may not be breaking new storytelling ground, but it
more than delivers on its promise of high-stakes adventure.
It’s a familiar narrative, then, but so compellingly written that you get caught up in the furiously dramatic story, and it’s refreshing to have a protagonist that’s a knowledgeable professional for this kind of action. Again, there are echoes of Jurassic Park here, but CJ Cameron – lizard expert – is a rather more able character, combining the intellectual awareness of Ian Malcolm with the wary cynicism and deep-down grit of Dr Alan Grant. Peripheral characters are slightly weaker, and a fabulously camp character feels out of place, not quite hitting the mark as comic relief, but the human beings here aren’t the stars of the show.
While the dragons could easily have been somewhat phoned in – as the book tells
us, every culture has its own dragon mythology – they are gorgeously realised, with a heap of juicy science fiction to flesh them out.
But the Jurassic Park references keep coming, even so far as to have the characters reference it at one point, and it tips the overall feel of the story from strong in a similar style to something that feels like more of a rip-off, but it doesn’t take away from the end result. The set pieces are different, and there are a few extra layers of plot, but the story beats are virtually identical. It’s a shame, because the action is vivid, tense, and builds to a roaring conclusion, while the characters are diverse and engaging.
Still, despite potentially benefitting from branching out a little further, The Great Zoo Of China is a blockbuster movie of a book that tears along at a shrieking pace.