Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. ★★★1/2
Zoo City is one of the most inventive urban fantasies I’ve read. It was an engrossing book with plenty to keep me interested, although I found the ending to be weak.
Zinzi is an animalled – a person for whom the shadows rise up out of the earth to give an animal after they commit a crime. If the animal dies, the shadows will rise out of the earth again and take the animalled with it. In Zinzi’s case, she’s got a dead brother and a sloth.
The set up of the “animalled” is very interesting and what makes the story so unique. The animal is like a physical representation of their past sins, but it’s up in the air whether the animal is meant to punish or rehabilitate.
The one bonus of being an “animalled” is that each one comes with a gift. For Zinzi, it’s a knack to find lost things, which is one of the ways in which she makes her living. The plot thus revolves around her tracking down a missing pop star with ensuing complications.
The concept was definitely the greatest thing about the book. Zinzi, a black South African woman trained as a journalist, was a fairly enjoyable antihero, and while I may never have connected to her very closely, I liked reading about her. The setting of Johannesburg was also aptly captured.
The plot is the weakest point. It was serviceable for the most part, but ultimately let me down at the end. I think that an ending needs some sense of achievement or conclusion, of which Zoo City had neither. The mystery may have been solved, but little of it’s end result related to Zinzi. Nor does her character arc provide any sense of growth or satisfaction. In short, there was not a sense of fulfillment. If this was a series, the ending might make sense, but it does not work within the context of a stand alone novel.
I would recommend Zoo City to people looking for an unique urban fantasy story. Despite the weak ending, I found it overall enjoyable and would recommend it.