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Zoo City Paperback – July 19, 2011

3.8 out of 5 stars 133 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Angry Robot (July 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780857662163
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857662163
  • ASIN: 0857662163
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (133 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #857,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
Going into Zoo City, I didn't know what to expect. This is my first novel by Lauren Beukes, but I have heard great things about her other novel, Moxyland. What I found was a very unique and exciting experience in an urban fantasy world, one I haven't enjoyed as much since I read War for the Oaks by Emma Bull.

The story centers around Zinzi December, a young woman living in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her life isn't going so great, having once had a job as a journalist, she is now writing scam emails to pay back a large debt. Things change when she is approached by a music producer who wants to hire her to find a missing recording artist. You see, Zinzi has a special gift: she can find lost things. Not people, she insists, but she cannot turn down the job, which can essentially pay enough to cover her debt and beyond.

Zinzi can find lost things because that's her ability she manifested when she became Animalled. In the world Beukes has created, something called the Zoo Plague emerged, causing anyone who commits criminal acts (we don't know the extent of the requirements) is bonded to an animal for life. This situation is coined Acquired Aposymbiotic Familiarism and no one really know why or how it works. We are shown very little, mostly through separate pieces of information such as web pages or magazine/newspaper articles.

Zinzi was burdened with a Sloth (and that's what she calls it). One of the fascinating aspects of this novel is realizing and imagining what kind of an effect this sort of thing could have on society. Zinzi murdered her brother and she will forever be seen as an Animalled. Society has shunned these people, creating a whole new social class beneath everything else. Some have even used this to gain fame.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I came to this book with fairly low expectations but ended up enjoying it, more or less. In a future world where (after some-unnamed cataclysm, though it seems to be terroristic in nature) those who sin have animal familiars, low-level magic powers, and the constant threat of encountering damnation ("the Undertow"), our heroine starts searching for a missing Afro-Pop diva and runs into the usual adventures.

Stuff it does right: the world is very well-presented, particularly in it's use of magic, which is never heavy handed. This is basically low-level stuff but it's blended seamlessly into the world, no small trick with such an oddball idea -- this is a world full of people running around with animals, for Pete's sake. Yet you end up buying it, more or less, by the end. Beukes' South African setting may have helped here, as the environmental disparities (a shaman in a Dolce and Gabbino vest who keeps his gross magic elixir in an empty two liter Coke bottle, for instance) come across as charming, somehow fitting. This is a ramshackle world generally, built together from flotsam -- you buy it. It's never over-explained, always a trap for fantasy writers but Beukes leaves a lot of what's going on unstated, which keeps the magic genuinely mysterious and powerful when it does appear. The explanations she does offer are done very cleverly, through other "electronic flotsam" -- a précis of a scientific paper, reviews of a documentary, a music article -- which helps set the world even more. Very clever, this.

I also liked the heroine. I confess to generally not liking female PI books: either the stories retain their edge but the women are laughable Mary Sue's/Wonder Women or the leads are believable but the story itself is a pile of mush.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
When my friend and I asked Lauren Beukes to describe Zoo City, she understandably remarked that the book is rather difficult to explain. Zoo City isn't like a lot of books. On the one hand it is a noir murder mystery with a semi-New Weird slant, but on the other it is a novel about refugees, the music industry, South Africa, guilt, revenge, drugs, prejudice, poverty, and so much more. It is a gloriously complicated novel with equally complicated characters. You might even call it a brilliant example of worldbuilding from outside of the traditional modern fantasy genre.

Zoo City is concerned with Zinzi December, a former convict who, like many others, must bear the
mark of her crime in the form of a semi-intelligent animal -- in her case, it's a sloth. But there's also the Undertow -- a mysterious force that some claim is Hell reaching out for the damned souls of aposymbiots like Zinzi. Aposymbiosis, however, isn't all bad. Every aposymbiot is gifted with an ability. Some can create protective charms while others can dampen magical fields. Zinzi can see the threads that connect people to their lost things. And that's how she survives: finding things for people for a modest fee. But when she takes on a job from a music producer to find a missing girl, things get sticky. Her employer isn't who he seems and the person she's trying to find might be running for a good reason. Toss in her debts to a shady organization of email scammers, her complicated relationship with her refugee lover, a murder, and the seedy underbelly of a Johannesburg trying to deal with its new "problem" and you have a complex story about South Africa, its people, and its culture.

Zoo City is immense in its complexity, despite having the allure of a typical genre romp.
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