Let me start this post by saying that Matthew Reilly has been one of my favourite action genre authors. I can write pages and pages about the impact that his Shane Schofield and Jack West Jr. novels have left on me. But this post is not about those books. This is about The Great Zoo of China. So let me restrain myself.
I distinctly remember the day I picked up The Great Zoo of China. It was my first visit to a bookstore last year – after a 6 month break. That day, as I was getting back home, I just felt this pull to visit the bookstore. I walked in and found this book sitting at the store window, begging me to take it home. And I did.
True to its title, the book is about a fictional great zoo in China. However, the book was not all I thought it would be. To begin with, the book had a grand setting – in the Great Zoo of China. It felt like it was larger than life, and had many elements to it, which started unravelling half way through the book. And my heart sank with it. To add to my mounting disappointment were characters (or at least one that I can remember) that played pivotal roles, but gradually were forgotten. Yes, the book just stopped following them, and I was left with no idea of what happened to them.
The female protagonist (the first ever in a Reilly book) seemed to have a roster of skills that both she and I were surprised to discover. She kept uncovering these skills and pulled them out of her ears as the story demanded it. What’s worse was that the build-up to the drama was just barely there. Chaos and mayhem is all that’s there in this book. Which is fine, and in fact expectable from a book by Reilly. But this seemed so forced, it just fell flat. There was very little logic or reason behind events in the book, and even people’s actions. After a point this turned into a book in which you could predict which characters would survive and which would not. That’s disappointing.
One winning point in this book (one that I truly appreciated) was the fact that it was a fast read. While the book is quite long, the pace that Reilly set is appreciable. To be honest, the only reason I’m being this harsh about The Great Zoo of China is because I’ve experienced the incredibly sharp and great action-packed writing that Reilly has had to offer in his other books. And these are books that I recommend to people who love this genre – even my father-in-law, who admires his writing.