Science fiction and fantasy
by Lauren Beukes
However, in spite of her fallen status Zinzi still has some standards. She doesn't deal with stolen goods or missing people, for instance. So when two people come along and offer her a job finding a missing young pop star she's inclined to turn it down. But despite her best intentions she finds herself on the case, looking out for drugged-up young singers and trying to retrace the girl's movements.
This is a gritty mystery full of sleaze and exotic magic. Zinzi is something of an anti-heroine trying to pay off moral and financial debts, but she seems to stand no chance of reducing one kind of debt without increasing the other. Her cynical humour about the rotten situation she's in makes her an engaging character, though. Sloth can't talk but he makes his views known throughout and he acts a little like Zinzi's conscience. He also protects her in various ways, including holding off the dreaded undertow. The undertow is a bit like a current sucking sinners into Hell, which threatens all zoos. However with all this talk of guilt, conscience and damnation I'm painting the story as a lot less ambiguous than it actually is. One of the good things about Zoo City is the way Lauren Beukes is never too prescriptive about why zoos have appeared all of a sudden, why they have special powers, and what it all means. Readers are allowed to make up their own minds about whether Zinzi can be redeemed and what the animals really stand for.
There's a touching sub-plot going on with Benoit, an animalled man who lives with Zinzi. Their relationship is dealt a heavy blow in the course of the story. Zinzi is faced with the choice of doing the right thing by everyone else, even though she doesn't want to, and there's a nice bit of tension as we wonder how she will deal with her complex love life.
From grimy slums to gang warfare to supernatural horrors, Zoo City is a book of hard edges and nasty surprises. It's also livened up by stabs of sharp, black humour, and the action is unrelenting. Animal companions have been used before, in books like Philip Pullman's Northern Lights, but Lauren Beukes gives them a uniquely severe perspective here. This is a dark fantasy about forgiveness and redemption, but the authentic picture it paints of Johannesburg's corrupt underbelly gives this story real bite.
8th March 2011
If you like this, try:Apocalypse Now Now by Charlie Human
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Miriam Black can see how people will die, but her gift is a curse if she can't change anyone's fate.
Further Conflicts by Ian Whates
Thirteen stories of future warfare as humanity faces all manner of threats.
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