by Matthew Reilly
It is a secret the Chinese government has been keeping for forty years.
They have found a species of animal no one believed even existed. It will amaze the world.
Now the Chinese are ready to unveil their astonishing discovery within the greatest zoo ever constructed.
A small group of VIPs and journalists has been brought to the zoo deep within China to see its fabulous creatures for the first time.
Among them is Dr. Cassandra Jane ‘CJ’ Cameron, a writer for National Geographic and an expert on reptiles.
The visitors are assured by their Chinese hosts that they will be struck with wonder at these beasts, that they are perfectly safe, and that nothing can go wrong.
Of course it can’t…
I wasn't expecting much from this book, but I still really wanted to read it. It was described as 'Jurassic Park with dragons', and it'd been so long since I'd read a shameless, action adventure story - the closest I'd come to recently was Mira Grant's Rolling in the Deep (reviewed here!), which I read just before this - and I was really in the mood for a story that I didn't have to think too much about.
This story is no masterpiece, and if you decide to read it then you really have to suspend your disbelief. If you've got your eye on this because you're a huge fan of dragons, don't go into this expecting regal, handsome creatures who guard treasure and princesses or fearsome steeds that can be trained and ridden. These are animals and they're treated as such, but as someone who's never been much of a dragon person I quite liked that. I like it when dragons are looked at as creatures that might have existed rather than mythical beings from fairy tales, but that could just be because I was obsessed with dinosaurs as a child.
The history and the science behind the dragons Reilly created was one of the things I most enjoyed about the book, though as someone who's completely right-brained I'm not sure how much that says in the book's defense, but for the most part I just wasn't a fan of this one.
Firstly, Reilly used WAY too many exclamation marks within the narrative. I hate it when narrators use exclamation marks, especially third person narrators; I think it looks and sounds pretty juvenile, and the majority of the time there would have been so much more suspense and drama within his prose if he'd dropped the exclamation marks altogether.
I also wasn't entirely keen on the way China was portrayed. There were certain things I liked - for example, I loved the way that the zoo was being built to try and surpass the western world and basically become China's answer to Disneyland - but it seemed as though almost every Chinese character was 'bad', and many of the American characters were often commenting on how unethical China was. No offence to any of my American friends, but I really don't think America of all places has the right to criticise anywhere else for the way it treats its own people.
One of the biggest criticisms of the novel I saw in other people's reviews was that they disliked the protagonist, CJ. Personally I really liked her! The criticism she seemed to get most was that she was a Mary-Sue who could do everything, but isn't that what every action hero has been like for decades? If CJ had been a man, would he have received the same criticism? I'd like to think so, but I'm not so sure.
However, this book certainly isn't a feminist masterpiece, although I can't really mark it down for that because it doesn't claim to be. There are a couple of other minor women characters, but they're two of the first to die when the dragons attack, and the rest of CJ's party is made up of men which was a little disappointing - it would have been nice if CJ had a sister rather than a brother, or if the politician in their group or even the villainous director of the zoo was a woman rather than a man.
Ultimately this book was a bit of daft fun, and if you're in the mood to read something action-packed and bordering on the ridiculous I'd recommend checking it out, but don't expect it to blow your socks off. The action never stops and I enjoyed it enough to read it to its, sadly rather weak, ending, but I just found the whole story and Reilly's constant exclamation marks too frustrating to rate it any higher.