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BOOK REVIEW: The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

| 9 November 2014 | 9 Replies

BOOK REVIEW: The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

November 2014, $39.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell



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…


A few people close to me are loyal, loyal fans of Matthew Reilly, but beyond that I had never really paid much attention to him. I knew he sold well, I knew he was popular, and I knew his stories were epic and full of action.

I’ve always liked my action with a little something “other” and, operating under the misconception that Reilly’s action was straight, real world action, I never thought to try. Until I heard about The Great Zoo of China, I didn’t realise that Reilly’s books are exactly the sort of books I would likely enjoy.

Contest: the one with the fight to the death inside the New York Public Library?
Ice Station: the one about the gate to hell itself at the bottom of the ocean, hidden far below the ice?
Seven Deadly Wonders: the first in a series that sounds like a bit of a cross between Indiana Jones and National Treasure?

Seriously, they all sound like awesome fun! And his newest one is about a dragon zoo?! Sign me up!


It had its problems:

The overuse of italics and exclamation marks in the narrative telling the reader when to feel shocked, while countless other writers manage to do the same with just their words. And honestly, the situations in this book would be just as shocking without the overabundance of formatting to ensure we’re getting the message. This led to a fair bit of eye rolling after the first couple of instances, and I started marking each time I came across an exclamation mark. I was being pulled out of the story by them anyway, so I may as well make note.


A few things happened throughout the story that didn’t make sense (like the acidic fire that was so strong it could burn a dragon, dissolve a person’s skin and bones in seconds, and MELT THE FREAKING GROUND, but was stopped by a flexible, man made form of heat protection… and other things I won’t go into for fear of spoiling it for you). There were also a fair few instances of things seeming to work out just a little too easily for the characters, and things conveniently happening to give them a means of escape from an otherwise hopeless situation. Deus ex machina, if you will.


I didn’t feel much of an emotional connection to most of the human characters in the story. At times I worried about their safety, sure, but I was never all that shocked or devastated when one of them died.
I felt more for the dragons, even the ones that were evil.


There were issues with the way the dragons were explained.
There are six different types of Dragons: Red-bellied Blacks, Yellow Jackets, Green Rivers, Swamp Browns, Eastern Greys, and Purple Royals.
Within each colour/herd of dragons, there are Princes, Kings, and Emperors; the Princes are about the size of a car, the Kings the size of a bus, and the Emperors the size of a commercial plane.
One would think, given the colour divisions and the different sizes, that a dragon is born the size of a Prince and over time becomes a King and then an Emperor. It’s never made explicit, but at one point the characters find themselves looking at the eggs in the dragon nest.
This suggests all manner of conflict in the plot, not the least of which is the fact that a dragon would have to grow larger, in order to lay an egg. It would be more likely, given this new information, that the Emperors would be a species, but with varied colour markings, the Kings would be another species, and the Princes a third species.


But all in all, this was a very fun, easy read, and after the two-hudred page mark I couldn’t put it down. I kept promising myself I would read “one more chapter”. At one point I woke up at 2:30 in the morning, decided to read until I got sleepy, and looked over at my clock to find that it was now 6:30. The short chapters and plethora of diagrams no doubt contributed to the speed of the read, allowing the reader to not need to focus too hard on the descriptions, but still have a clear sense of the layouts of the buildings and what was going on.

I loved some of the characters, though most not human, and the way the author explained the existence of Dragons, how it was grounded in reality and connected to the dinosaurs.

After the action started, and before I hit my limit on exclamation marks, I looked up the descriptions of Reilly’s other books, sure I would enjoy them immensely. By the end of the book I was a little less infatuated. I will still pick his other books up, though probably not immediately.

I’d recommend this to fans of action and adventure, though possibly not to trained editors like myself.


Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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Comments (9)

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  1. Esther says:

    I am a big fan of Matthew Reilly but from the beginning have also been irritated by his use of italics. It’s become a bit of an in-joke in our family and if there is a page that doesn’t contain one, then it is newsworthy.
    Other than that, what I do enjoy are the fast pace of his novels that suck me in (I too have broken the ‘one more chapter’ promise many times) and I also enjoy the melding of science/history with the fiction. The Jack West books are my favourites.

  2. Stephanie O'Connell says:

    Hi Esther,

    Absolutely, re: the fast pace and the blending of science and history with the story.
    I LOVED the way he made dragons a feasible thing. Who’s to say there ISN’T some secret dragon zoo just waiting to be unveiled, really?

    It was a good, fun read, and I’ll definitely look into his other books. I think Seven Deadly Wonders and Contest are at the top of my Reilly list.

    And I think an in-joke is much safer than a drinking game based on the use of italics. 😛

  3. Rob says:

    I must say I really do not understand the fascination with Matthew Reilly. His writing, although fast paced, is juvenile and irritating to no end. Coupled with the overabundance of exclamation points and italics and diagrams I find on the whole his novels to be… not offensive but irritating.

    But it must be said, he’s published, he has a huge fan base and at least, I must congratulate him for that.

    I tried two Reilly books and couldn’t (I should say didn’t want to) finish either. Hats off for those that dig him I guess, he’s just not for me.

    Addendum; Very enjoyable review Stephanie. Thank-you.

  4. Stephanie O'Connell says:

    Rob, I completely agree with you on the annoyances. So many authors convey their message without the use of diagrams, or overuse of exclamation marks and italics, and said other authors manage not to confuse us in the process. At times it felt a little condescending, actually, that the author thought we needed these bits and pieces in order to understand.

    I’m not denying my enjoyment of the book – it definitely had its good points, and I will be looking into his other works for sure – but I’m certain it would have been much more enjoyable had I not been rolling my eyes so often.

    Which two did you try reading?

  5. Rob says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    I managed to get through 3/4 of AREA 7 but could not stomach it any longer. An example of my pettiness would be that, instead of writing “a hail of bullets…” etc (cliché, I know) Reilly would write “BANG!”

    The other book was SEVEN DEADLY WONDERS, which irked me right at the get go with pictures explaining the lay of the land and the interior of the mountain temple. This was even before anything actually happened.

    I wish I could get over this niggling little issue as i do enjoy his OTT stories but, like you with the exclamation marks, every time I read something like the examples above I roll my eyes and, as you said, taken out of the story.

    I wish he’d stop pumping out so many books and mature his craft a little, but this is just one no-body’s opinion. I’m glad you did enjoy it, and maybe when I’ve got through my backlog i’ll resume reading them but for now, there are just too many novels and not enough time to read them!


  6. Stephanie O'Connell says:

    Haha, the “BANG!” would definitely do it for me. I think there was an instance of a “BOOM!” or something similar in this one, but it was close enough to the end for me to push on.

    I’m a big believer in creating the perfect story, but he’s selling, he has loyal fans, and you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I guess he might lose some of those loyal fans if he did change his style, and who’s to say what it is about him that keeps them coming back? It might just be the diagrams, exclamation marks, and onomatopoeic words.

    Thanks for commenting!

  7. Peter Blades says:

    I have just about completed this book but have to say that overall I am disappointed with this effort. Matthew Reilly has always been one to write big adventure novels with larger than life characters and over exaggerated scenarios which I have normally found fun to immerse in. But in this story, I find the main hero character CJ incredibly unconvincing and the overall story line somewhat silly. Matthew’s previous characters such as Jack West and Scarecrow are so much easier to embrace to a point that you almost feel kike you know them personally. It seems like that Reilly’s character CJ is a female version of these guys, for the sake of having a female heroine for a change. As for the dragons, there is a real inconsistency as to their intelligence. One moment they have worked out how bring down a power supply to shut down the infra red dome, or they rip off their ears so that they can’t be controlled, destroy helicopters with their claws, but can’t seem to work out how to destroy the heroes. As for the talking dragon Lucky….eesh! I usually enjoy Matthew Reilly’s novels and the diversity of story lines he has presented over the years, but this book seems to be an over reaction to the complaints made by readers who didn’t appreciate his last novel, The Tournament!

  8. Stephanie O'Connell says:

    Hi Peter, thanks for commenting!

    It definitely does sound like he’s overcompensating for his last novel. I haven’t read it myself, but there was a lot of talk at the time about how it was so very different to all of his others. I must say, though, a lot of the feedback I heard on The Tournament was actually positive, but I’m sure there are long-time fans who hated it.

    I have been told I need to check out Jack West Junior first, and am sure I will get around to it eventually.

    What would your suggestion be for my next Reilly read, whenever that may be?

  9. Peter Blades says:

    Thanks for your reply Stephanie! If you haven’t read Temple, then that would be the one I would highly recommend!

    Cheers, Peter

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