The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly (Book Review)

great zoo of china

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly is a high octane thriller that mixes adventure, fantasy and science; but unfortunately just misses in becoming a really good book. Though the author, in his notes and interviews, struggles to separate his novel from comparisons to Jurassic Park; the first line of the book sleeve states, “…In the blockbuster and bestselling tradition of Jurassic Park…” and there is its problem. The similarities to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park are far too numerous to ignore.

“…And flying around that peak, gliding lazily, their wings outstretched, were seven massive animals, animals that were far larger than any flying creature CJ knew.
Even from this distance-and the train was still at least a few miles from the crater-CJ could clearly make out their shapes: sleek serpentine bodies, long slender necks and, most striking of all, enormous batlike wings.
Five of the creatures must have been the size of buses, while two were bigger still; they each must have been the size of a small airliner.
‘Good Lord…’ Wolfe said, mouth agape.
‘Holy Toledo…’ Hamish gaped.
CJ couldn’t believe it either, but there they were, lifted from myth and flying around in front of her.
She was looking for dragons…”

The Chinese have come upon a species that all cultures have record of, but none believe exist. They were able to capture Dragons and keep them hidden from the world as they built a great zoo around the Dragons. China believes that this will become their great national achievement, to create a park that rivals Disneyland. A place where the world will come to view the creature that no other country has.

China invites a small group of VIPs to see the zoo, journalists and scientists, among them Dr. Cassandra Jane Cameron. A writer and expert on reptiles.

“…Evolution is a master craftsman, Mr. Hu. Over millions of years, it has designed this creature for one purpose and one purpose only: to be an apex predator. Given their size, these dragons could be more than that: they could be the ultimate apex predator. They are built to do three things: hunt, kill and eat. Like crocodiles and alligators, that is what they do. That is why they exist. And these animals are smart: hell, you’ve managed to train a few of them. Hence my question. How many people have they killed already…”

The VIPs are assured that they are perfectly safe but the Dragons are smart and as CJ fears…they are the greatest predators this world has ever seen.

The similarities to Jurassic Park and that this book is released right about the time the movie Jurassic World comes out is far too coincidental to ignore. Despite the author’s protests that there shouldn’t be any comparisons done. Let’s take a look at some of the similarities:
1- Prehistoric or Mythical creature is resurrected.
2- Creature is to showcased to the world in an amusement park/zoo setting.
3- Book and movie starts off with death at park due to creature attack.
4- Initial tour of park/zoo goes array and creatures attack and attempt escape from park/zoo.
5- Humanities hubris in believing it can contain an unknown creature turns on him with blood and death and mayhem ensuing.
6- creatures and human battle in a kitchen or dining setting.
7- Creatures are created by humans by splicing the genes or using surrogates with reptiles.
And the list can go on.

One of the most important aspects of a thriller that combines myth and science is the ability to suspend the reader’s belief and get them to buy into the concept that this could actually occur. The Great Zoo of China fails in this and that is too bad because Reilly is a terrific writer. His thrillers are fast paced and the science that is usually involved is well researched. The science behind The Great Zoo of China is heavily, whether it was meant to be or not, heavily borrowed from the work done on Jurassic Park. It is just too much to ignore.

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