Review – The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

dragon zoo

“I know where they’ll go,” CJ said flatly. “They’ll go to the larger nest and open it.”

“Where is that?”

“I have an idea. And I have to get there fast to stop them, or else the whole world is going to have an unstoppable dragon problem.”

But I want the whole world to have an unstoppable dragon problem.

Jurassic World may be dumb, but at least it understands whose side we’re on. The film unnecessarily stacks the deck with villainous private military contractors, a British woman, and a genetically engineered dinosaur we’re told “kills for sport”, but it doesn’t need any of that. The filmmakers know we’re there to see dinosaurs. And we don’t really care if two kids, Chris Pratt, or thousands of people crowding the observation decks with cell phones survive. We brought dinosaurs back from the dead! They’re a precious, expensive, endangered resource, and if people have to get eaten to keep them alive, tough. There’s a lot more people where they came from.

The Great Zoo of China greatly misjudges readers’ sympathies. Once the dragons at the zoo break free from their constraints and start killing their masters, the protagonists spend the rest of the story trying to keep them contained. As the dragons get closer to escaping the electromagnetic fence that keeps them locked in an artificially created crater, our heroes start killing the dragons. In the end, unflappable veterinarian CJ Cameron unleashes “nearly every grenade she had in her grenade launcher” into a giant nest of dragon eggs, collapsing the cavern, killing hundreds of infant dragons, and possibly extinguishing creatures she thought to be mythical just 24 hours before.

Who the fuck would do that?

Like Jurassic World, the book tries to manipulate our sympathies away from the dragons by focusing on the evil black red-bellies, who work together not only to torment our ostensible heroes, but to wipe out the other dragon breeds as well. It’s a cheat which reaches its apex when the princeling red-bellies free their superking and superemperor from the chains of the breeding pit, and the two boss dragons summarily roast the other nicer dragon rulers. It’s unnecessarily cruel and convenient. Lesser dragons tear through everything else, how the hell did these things stay locked up in chains?

That may seem pointlessly nitpicky, but it’s the same lame technique used in Jurassic World. “Oh, these fantastic, amazing, super smart animals that we’ve only known existed for a day are the bad ones, so it’s okay if we kill them.” Why not write them so they actually behave like animals? Instead, they’re portrayed like Billy Zane in Titanic. It’s not enough for him to be a romantic rival, he has to hit women and have a personal hitman, too.

Reilly glosses over it, but there is at least one very clever idea at work here. The question in a Jurassic Park sequel has to be, “But who would build or visit another Jurassic Park?” In The Great Zoo of China, CJ saves a similar question for one of many forced dramatic cliffhangers. Touring the park as a member of an exclusive press tour, she finally asks, “Mr. Hu, exactly how many people have your dragons killed so far?” He lies and tells her none. China, of course, would be a perfect place to secretly build a dragon park where nature always finds a way of murdering people and cover it up. So the security measures are easily evaded. And, okay, let’s say a couple hundred people who worked on building the park know too much. And let’s not forget a bunch of trainers got eaten. Well, this is China. Anyone who might speak out can be silenced, arrested, or otherwise disappeared. It’s the perfect place to build a tourist death trap.

Given the nature of their discovery, it’s hard not to root for the craven scientist who wants to keep the dragons alive and the corrupt Chinese officials on this one. They did someone no one else has done– they made a great zoo with dragons. So their methods might be suspect and some boring humans died. You don’t build a great Chinese dragon zoo without breaking some nosy foreign imperialist eggs.

And screw the risks. I’d take my chances at Jurassic World, and I’d sure as hell go to a dragon zoo. I would die as I lived, wanting to see dragons.


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