Zoo City

By Lauren Beukes

Rating: 4 stars

Zinzi December is one of the ‘animalled’, she did something bad in her life and a sloth materialised and became psychically linked to her. It isn’t all bad, the animalled also get a gift (or curse) to go with their animal, and in Zinzi’s case that is the gift of finding lost things. With her latest client murdered, Zinzi is forced to take on her least favourite type of case: missing persons.

Having not particularly enjoyed Beukes’ previous novel, Moxyland, I wasn’t going to pick this one up, but it came highly recommended by someone whose judgement in books I trust, and I’m very glad I did. I don’t normally go for urban fantasy, but there’s a lot to recommend in this book. The world is very skilfully drawn and just slightly squint to our own. It’s a mark of Beukes’ skill that the addition of the animals seems an almost natural addition to our own. Normally, it’s not something I notice, but I very much admired Beukes’ use of ‘show, don’t tell’ in her writing. We are never infodumped with information about the animals or the world, but the facts we need are woven skilfully into the narrative, and we never feel at sea in jargon.

Zinzi is a flawed protagonist, a recovering drug addict paying off debts to gangs by writing 419-style scam emails, but she holds our sympathy and as our guide to the world is definitely sympathetic as she tries to rebuild her life, even when you find out what she did to deserve her sloth.

The story started to accelerate in pace towards the end and, to me, got slightly confusing. I think that a re-read would help with this and it certainly didn’t spoil the book for me. I would recommend this novel, even to people who wouldn’t normally read fantasy; Beukes certainly deserves the Arthur C. Clarke Award that she received for it.

Book details

ISBN: 9780857660541
Publisher: Angry Robot (Osprey Publishing)
Year of publication: 2010

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