Book Review: The Great Zoo of China

great zoo of chinaThe Great Zoo of China
by Matthew Reilly
Action/Thriller
393 pages
Published 2015

I don’t typically read thrillers, and I haven’t read Jurassic Park because the movie gave young me nightmares for YEARS. (I haven’t seen ANY of the sequels, it was that bad!) But this was billed as Jurassic Park but with DRAGONS. And dragon-themed ANYTHING gets my attention, so in the queue it went! And I am glad for it, because this book was awesome. From the first glimpse of dragons flying above the tourist area, to the moment when everything starts to go wrong, to racing through the pages to find out how our hero manages to survive, this book had me entranced. The action just careens through the swamps and mountains of the park, almost as out of control as the dragons CJ is running from. And while we know CJ has to survive, because she’s the main character, she has a brother, a little girl she’s taken under her protection, old colleagues, and countrymen that she could lose at any moment.

And the dragons. Oh my, the dragons. They come in three sizes – Princes, about the size of a small car, Kings, about city bus size, and Emperors. Emperors are the size of passenger jets. With creatures this size, the action is supersized, too! Picture dragons picking up garbage trucks and flinging them at buildings, and you’ve got the idea! These dragons are intelligent, too. They have a language, and can plan and set traps together. They are devious and DEADLY.

If the dragons weren’t enough, the story is also set in China. China is known for squashing dissent, and it’s no different with the zoo. No one outside the zoo knows about the dragons, and until they have things under control, and the zoo up and running, they can’t let anyone know about it. Which means any witnesses to this dragon rebellion need to die, whether to the claws of the dragons or the bullets of the Chinese military.

The Great (Dragon) Zoo of China is one heck of a ride, and the action is amazing. I think this is one of my favorites of the year. It’s also the fourth book on my Summer reading list.

From the cover of The Great Zoo of China:

Get ready for action on a gigantic scale.

It is a secret the Chinese government has been keeping for forty years. They have proven the existence of dragons – a landmark discovery no one could ever believe is real, and a scientific revelation that will amaze the world. Now the Chinese are ready to unveil their astonishing findings within the greatest zoo ever constructed.

A small group of VIPs and journalists has been brought to the zoo deep within China to see these 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 the dragons are perfectly safe, and that nothing can go wrong.

Of course it can’t….

Series Review: The Memoirs of Lady Trent

a natural history of dragons lady trentA Natural History of Dragons / The Tropic of Serpents / Voyage of the Basilisk / In The Labyrinth of Drakes / Within the Sanctuary of Wings
by Marie Brennan
Fictional Memoirs
300-350 pages each
Published 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016 / 2017

I had been drooling over this series for quite some time. Every time I went to my local game store, I’d paw through their small fiction bookshelf, and these were always on it. I finally found the first four all at once at the library, and seized the chance. (I had to request the fifth.) I did not regret it. These are fantastic.

tropic of serpents lady trentThe Memoirs of Lady Trent, as one can expect, are told from the viewpoint of Isabella Camherst, who becomes Lady Trent partway through the books. (But since they are written as her memoirs, she is “remembering” back to her adventures before she became part of the peerage.) Lady Trent’s world is analogous to our own Victorian age, except they have dragons, and she is fascinated by them. In the first book, she maneuvers her husband, also an amateur scholar of dragons, into joining an expedition to go study mountain drakes, and manages to get herself brought along. That begins her career.

The representation in these books is excellent for the time period they are based on! In the second book we get an asexual character, who turns into a side character for much of the rest of the series. (In figuring herself out, she mentions she had also tried the affections of women before realizing she didn’t want that, either.) In the third we get a culture with a third gender, and mention from Lady Trent of men who love men back home.

lady trent voyage of the basiliskI actually quite enjoyed how these books treated other cultures. We see a lot of effects from Scirling (British) colonialism, but Lady Trent herself sees other cultures as interesting things to study and become part of temporarily, not as “savages” that need to be “civilized” (or just used) as so many Victorian-age naturalists did. (And, indeed, how the Scirling military sees them.) Her ultimate goal is always the dragons, but if that means becoming part of a jungle or island tribe, and tending camp and hunting and traveling as the villagers do, then that is what she does. I could see the argument for painting Lady Trent as a white savior figure, but if she wasn’t part of one of the dominant cultures in this world, she wouldn’t have the means or access for all the different adventures described in the books. I suppose she could have been Akhian or Yengalese. (Arabian or Chinese, respectively, the other two dominant cultures.) She also forms genuine friendships with the people she lives among, and tries to do her best by them.

I enjoyed the introduction of the Akhian archeologist, and how that helped pull the focus of the books a little bit more onto the ancient culture of Draconeans, who Lady Trent had been largely uninterested in before. He soon became one of my favorite characters, so I was quite happy to see the events of the fourth book take Lady Trent to Akhia.

The fifth book unveiled quite a few surprises. We get to learn a lot more about the Draconeans, which was really cool. They also presented a culture with allowance for group marriage; at one point a villager asks Lady Trent if all four men she’s travelling with are her husbands!

The five books altogether were a really interesting progression in the history of the study of dragons, and I quite enjoyed them. They were definitely unique.

From the cover of A Natural History of Dragons:

Marie Brennan begins a thrilling new fantasy series in A Natural History of Dragons, combining adventure with the inquisitive spirit of the Victorian Age.

“You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one’s life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. . . .”

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

Book Review: Smoke Eaters

smoke eatersSmoke Eaters
by Sean Grigsby
Urban Fantasy? Dystopia?
334 pages
Published March 2018

Oh this was AWESOME. With the exception of the main character’s name (Cole Brannigan) making me think of Zapp Brannigan from Futurama ALL THE TIME, this was a great read. The book is actually set in the near future of Earth – sometime after “E-Day” which they never actually said what the “E” stood for, but maybe Emergence Day? Because that was the day the dragons burrowed up from the earth and started destroying everything. (They referred to a song popular in the 80s as “ancient music”!) There’s some new technology – androids are getting popular, robot dogs are common, and the Smoke Eaters have laser swords and laser cannons for taking down dragons. But firefighting is still mostly the same.

Not-Zapp Brannigan is about to retire when his (regular) fire fighting team unexpectedly encounters a dragon. Normally, normal fire fighters don’t go in until the Smoke Eaters have taken out the dragon, but they didn’t realize there was a dragon here until far too late. During the fight, Brannigan loses his oxygen mask and discovers he can breathe in the thick smoke and be fine. He’s a literal Smoke Eater. When the actual Smoke Eaters arrive and discover him, he’s shanghaied into joining up.

The book covers Brannigan’s Smoke Eater training, what little of it he gets, and the trouble he gets into being on the Mayor’s bad side. We get to see several different types of dragons, and also see how the experience of many years of fighting normal fires helps with dragon-fighting strategy. There’s some theories on the dragons – where they came from, how they reproduce, how best to fight them.

Most of the book takes place in Ohio, but they take a jaunt to Canada and – well Canada’s gone VERY WEIRD.

This book was great, and a fun ride start to finish. I hope he writes more in this world, though the book is a perfectly fine standalone.

From the cover of Smoke Eaters:

When dragons rise from the earth, firefighters are humanity’s last line of defense, in this wild near-future fantasy.

Firefighter Cole Brannigan is on the verge of retirement after 30 years on the job, and a decade fighting dragons. But during his final fire call, he discovers he’s immune to dragon smoke. It’s such a rare power that he’s immediately conscripted into the elite dragon-fighting force known as the Smoke Eaters. 

Retirement cancelled, Brannigan is re-assigned as a lowly rookie, chafing under his superiors. So when he discovers a plot to take over the city’s government, he takes matters into his own hands. With hundreds of innocent civilians in the crosshairs, it’s up to Brannigan and his fellow Smoke Eaters to repel the dragon menace.

Friday 56 – Smoke Eaters

smoke eatersThe Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The rules are simple – turn to page 56 in your current read (or 56% in your e-reader) and post a few non-spoilery sentences.

It’s almost July, so I’m reading a book about hot things! In this case, dragons and fire fighters! Smoke Eaters came out in March, and I’ve been on the lookout for it since. I spotted it at my library and snapped it up, and so far, it’s great!

DeShawn followed me outside where a big, black fire apparatus waited. It looked almost like an aerial ladder truck, but instead of a ladder, a huge laser cannon sat on top. The black paint glistened in the sun, and instead of the standard red and white lights, the truck had been outfitted with green and purple strobes and beacons. On the side of the truck, the words “Sink or Swim” had been painted in green.

The lady smoke eater from the day before hopped out of the captain’s seat while the black man with red eyes circled from the driver’s side. They’d substituted their power suits and helmets for the green smoke eater dress shirt and navy blue duty pants.

Review will be up as soon as I finish it!

Book Review: Dragon Heart

dragon heartDragon Heart
by Cecelia Holland
Fantasy
286 pages
Published 2015

I picked this up on a whim; the cover and synopsis made it sound like yet another maiden-befriends-a-dragon standard fantasy novel, with her family in the balance. I was wrong. I’d never heard of the author, but apparently she has been writing historical fiction since the 60s, and she took that wealth of experience and added a dragon to make this gothic tale of a family fighting to keep their sovereignty against an encroaching empire.

I actually wish the dragon had featured in the story more than he did; I want to know more about his history and why he was so intrigued by Tirza. Why they could understand each other when no one else could. I’m disappointed that was never explained.

The mysteries of the castle were never really explained, either, though one of the stories Tirza tells the dragon hints at it. Castle Ocean seems to be alive, in some ways, refusing to be altered from its original construction by slowly reverting any changes and luring invaders down dark hallways they will never find their way out of again. The gothic atmosphere of the novel was fascinating.

It definitely absorbed my attention for several hours. I’d give it a 3/5, I think. Not incredibly outstanding, but well done and a little hypnotic.

From the cover of Dragon Heart:

Where the Cape of Winds juts into the endless sea, there is Castle Ocean, which is either haunted or simply alive, and therein dwells the royal family that has ruled it from time immemorial. But there is an Empire growing in the east, and its forces have reached the castle. King Reymarro is dead in battle, and by the new treaty, Queen Marioza must marry one of the Emperor’s brothers. She loathes the idea and has already killed the first brother, but a second arrives, escorted by more soldiers. While Marioza delays, her youngest son, Jeon, goes on a journey in search of his mute twin, Tirza, who needs to be present for the wedding.

As Jeon and Tirza return by sea, their ship is attacked by a shocking and powerful dragon, red as blood and big as the ship. Thrown into the water, Tirza clings to the dragon and after an underwater journey, finds herself alone with the creature in an inland sea pool. Surprisingly, she is able to talk to the beast and understand it.

So begins a saga of violence, destruction, and death, of love and mosters, human and otherwise.