Zoo City by Lauren Beukes – Book Review [Bane of Kings]

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Bane of Kings reviews the thrilling, urban fantasy novel Zoo City, published worldwide by Angry Robot and written by Lauren Beukes.

“A wonderful ride, entertaining and unputdownable. You won’t want to miss this.” ~The Founding Fields

There are so many books that I wish I could have read closer to their release date, and Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City is no exception. When I finally got around to reading this novel, after a couple of years since its release, I only wished that I could have read this sooner. It’s a wonderful read that although flawed, is a very good novel. Want to know why? Well, stay tuned, and after this plot summary, I’ll give Lauren Beukes’ second novel a rundown.

Zinzi has a talent for finding lost things.

To save herself, she’s got to find the hardest thing of all: the truth.

An astonishing second novel from the author of the highly-acclaimed Moxyland

FILE UNDER: Modern Fantasy [Black magic noir / Pale Crocodile / Spirit Guardians / Lost stars]

Okay, the blurb may be a little bit short, but it’s still very much an entertaining read, especially when reinforced with the amazing UK Cover art that is shown along with this novel. It’s in a similar style to The World House by Guy Adams, and Lauren Beukes’ other novel, Moxyland. I love the way in which it’s presented, and was one of the things that hooked me into reading this book. That, and the praise that has been thrown upon it by many, many reviews, to the point where I don’t think I’ll be able to add anything new to this latest review.

But let’s have a go anyway. Zoo City is the winner of an Arthur C. Clarke award, so I was pretty sure that I was going to enjoy this novel before I even started. Once I started it though, Zoo City completely blew me away – it was a really enjoyable read. Zinzi, the main character in the novel, is an original protagonist and is known as a ‘Zoo’, somebody that has been put in jail and as a result, developed an animal familiar which must be taken care of like it is a precious pet, or else the consequences are dire. However, several animals provide gifts to the owner, for example, Zinzi’s Sloth gives her the ability for finding lost things. Her character is intriguing, and certainly no female version knight in shining armour as the author has created a character that weaves a captivating narrative and enthralls you right the way to the very end. The pace is fast, even and Beukes’ prose is fantastic.

Although not a character-driven novel, Zoo City is still a wonderful read and the plot is entertaining, and although somewhat old, (Investigator Investigating something that they don’t want to investigate), the way in which it’s presented makes it entertaining, and there’s plenty of pop culture references throughout the pages of Zoo City, with a reference to Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt being one of them. However, whilst that felt out of place in James Lovegrove’s Age of Odin, where there was a pop culture reference every five pages or so,  it certainly doesn’t feel out of place here, in a novel that is my first taste of South African-created literature.

Beukes has done a lot of research in Zoo City, she even mentions it at the beginning of the novel, and it really pays off when you read it as there’s not a single thing that seems extraordinary or out of place. Described as “very, *very* good” by William Gibson, you can certainly see why. I haven’t seen somebody dislike this novel yet, and considering it’s been out since 2010, that’s a very positive thing indeed. Mind you, I haven’t browsed the Goodreads reviews for this yet, so that could change…

The world building in Zoo City is fantastic, coming across as a fantasy version of cyberpunk that takes the reader into an entertaining world, and manages to keep them there. This is one book that you won’t want to miss out on, as it is fantastic stuff. Despite its cyberpunk/urban fantasy esque setting, Zoo City also reads like a noir crime novel, and it manages to bundle three different genres into one, enthralling tale. I’m going to struggle to pick a winner for this year’s “Best fantasy novel read in 2012 but not released in 2012” category, if there is one, because there is a whole host of fantastic choices, although Zoo City is quite firmly one of the best that I’ve read so far, alongside novels such as Anno Dracula by Kim Newman and The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell.

Verdict: 4.5/5 

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer