The Tournament, the last book by Australian author Matthew Reilly I read, was a big disappointment for me. I admit I don’t have high literary expectations when I read one of Reilly’s books. I fully anticipate the need to suspend my sense of disbelief, disregard my understanding of the laws of physics, and ignore my tendency for using logical thought processes when I pick one of his books up, but The Tournament lacked the thing I do enjoy about his books: mind-numbing action sequences.
With The Great Zoo of China, Reilly returns to his trademark style of storytelling. Unfortunately, though, I couldn’t get past the fact that someone else had already written almost the exact same story several years earlier, and did it far more successfully.
Dr. Cassandra Jane “CJ” Cameron is one of the world’s most renowned experts on alligators. She’s also a freelance journalist and is sent on assignment from National Geographic to China to preview a top-secret zoo the People’s Republic of China is planning to unveil to the world soon. When she gets there, she learns that for the past 40 years, Chinese officials and scientists have been working to build what will undoubtedly instantly become the greatest zoological park in the history of the world.
Forty years ago a nest of giant eggs were discovered deep beneath the earth’s surface in rural China. The eggs were not fossilized, but were instead found to be in a deep state of hibernation. For years they were watched and monitored until one of them finally hatched…and a dragon emerged. Without the rest of the world knowing, the PRC built a high-tech zoo and breeding program for the dragons and now, with a population of over one hundred live dragons to showcase to the world, they’re ready to make their discovery and accomplishments known.
Unfortunately for CJ and the rest of the experts brought to China for an early preview of the zoo, things quickly go horribly awry. The dragons are far smarter than anyone foresaw, and they soon find a way to circumvent the security measures in place to protect the park visitors.
Early in the book Reilly has one of his characters mention Crichton’s Jurassic Park, and questions the Chinese on the sanity of what they’ve done, so it’s not as if Reilly is trying to copy Crichton without acknowledging him as his inspiration. But if you’re going to imitate someone who did something as well as Crichton did, you better make sure you can do it at a high enough level to qualify the imitation as a form of flattery. Unfortunately, Reilly doesn’t. It’s a fun book, but it’s a disappointment when considered next to the original.
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