Review: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

How did I get it: The library. Or, more accurately, I made my library get this for me.

Why did I get it: The main character is African and has a Sloth familiar/companion. How could I not get this book?

How I would rate it: 5 out of 5 stars, but honestly? There are not enough stars in the sky for me to give to this book. That is how great it was.

My Summary: Zoo City gets its name because it focuses on zoos, people who end up with an animal after killing someone. The animal then stays with them and if anything happens to it, the Undertow comes. The Undertow being a sort of shadowy monster that devours people. That’s the bad news. The good news is the people with animals also get other powers. Zinzi December, for example, can find missing things or, more precisely, can see what a person is missing.

The back of the book says: “Zinzi has a Sloth on her back, a dirty online 419 scam habit – and a talent for finding lost things. But when her latest client, a little old lady, turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, she’s forced to take on her least favourite kind of job: missing persons.”

My Review: Just when I think I’m too picky about strong female protagonists and should cut more of them some slack… BAM, I met Zinzi December. And now I know I’m right. Characters should be this awesome, dammit, and if they are not, I don’t have to like them.

Over all I loved this book. It is so original, so compelling, and I loved spending time with Zinzi. It’s one of the few novels where I was glad that the book was told in first person and in present tense. I feel like that was a choice that made sense and not just used because most Urban Fantasy novels are told in first person. The animals in this book also were wonderful. I loved Sloth so much, and the way all of the animals are portrayed reminded me a lot of the familiars in His Dark Materials. I was glad they didn’t talk or act like the humans they belonged to, but communicated just fine through what was, generally speaking, normal animal behavior.

Along similar lines, I don’t typically enjoy Romance in my Urban Fantasy* selections because most of it is just so poorly done, but the love, chemistry and intense connection between Zinzi and Benoit seemed so natural and believable. Their relationship definitely added to Zinzi’s characterization instead of pulling the reader’s focus away from her.

So much work went into this book too. There’s sections with fake articles, movie summaries, online conversations, etc. explaining how the animals work, the terms used for people with animals, pop icons living in this world, the start of the animals showing up after murders and so many other amazing things. The end result is everything feels real, and creates such a powerful impression and impact that I was loathe to put the book down. I sort of feel like I lost my best friend which is probably why my only criticism would be the ending. In part because this book had no business ever ending, and also because the ending involved a lot of Zinzi watching things happen. And all of those things were pretty disturbingly awful.

In conclusion, if there’s ever a sequel to Zoo City, I will cry from sheer happiness and read the heck out of it. I highly suggest that anyone in need of a change take a break from all the supernatural creature fiction out there and read this book. You owe it to yourself to meet Zinzi December.

This is also the second book I’ve read recently that’s title was a noun followed by city and that I gave 5 stars to. Here’s hoping this awesome pattern continues!

* A notable exception to this is Marjorie M. Liu who can add Romance to anything she wants, as far as I’m concerned.

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About April

I'm a librarian, reader, and writer whose main goal in life is to be able to swim in books the way Scrooge McDuck swims in money. Although my reading choices will always be wildly eclectic and I never plan on leaving any genre unexplored, my favorite reads tend to be Fantasy, Young Adult, Science Fiction, Gay Romance, or Historical Fiction. You can e-mail me at inspector[dot]librarian[at]gmail[dot]com.
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6 Responses to Review: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

  1. Benni says:

    Love your review! Oh my goodness, I so agree that the ending could have been better–because IT HAD NO BUSINESS ENDING! 🙂

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