Book Review – Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Zoo CityZoo City by Lauren Beukes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Zoo City is a slum in Johannesburg where all the murderers (or those who were responsible for a death) and their mysteriously bestowed, animal “familiars” are forced to live by societal pressure, unless they can hide their familiar and pass as normal. The familiars aren’t just dumb animals, they have a degree of intelligence, can communicate with their human, “gift” their human with differing abilities and curse their human to a quick and painful death if they die.

Zinzi December is an ex-junkie with a huge debt to her ex-dealer, and a sloth on her back. Literally. Living in Zoo City, she’s scraping by and slowly repaying her dealer by participating in 419 scams, or using her mystical ability to find things. However Zinzi’s luck take a turn for the worse when the police confiscate her last payment after the person who hired her turned up dead.

Forced to take the kind of job she hates most, missing persons, Zinzi is hired by famous music producer Odi Huron to find a missing teen singer sensation before the groups’ next concert. Unsurprisingly, not even finding a missing teen singer is simple, and Zinzi finds herself further and further out of her depth, struggling to survive.

This was a fantastically written story set in a very interesting world, using the PI / detective noir trope to drive the plot, with some suitable variations where appropriate. Zinzi is incredibly well written, and I found myself sympathising with her, even while she was participating in a 419 scam, which is a testament to Beuke’s writing.

Beukes doesn’t give us any real explanation for the sudden appearances of animal familiars (it happened within the last decade) but gives a brief overview of the different reactions around the world, from instant death (mystical proof that guarantees guilt in a murder), to forced lab subject, to shunned second class citizen. Every now and then there’s an interesting reference, showing some definite thought went into the world building, but Beukes doesn’t drown us in it. My favourite had to be a reference Zinzi comes across which states:

“If you enjoyed this, you’ll like Steering by the Golden Compass: Pullman’s fantasy in the context of the ontological shift“. I chuckled out loud.

On the negative side, I found a few sections of the book seemed somewhat irrelevant, and I’m left unsure whether I missed something or whether the sections were actually unnecessary. That’s about the only flaw I noticed.

Overall a very solid read, and highly recommended.


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