Backlist Burndown Review: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
Also by this author: Broken Monsters
Published by Angry Robot on 2010-01-01
Zinzi has a Sloth on her back, a dirty 419 scam habit and a talent for finding lost things. But when a little old lady turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, she’s forced to take on her least favourite kind of job – missing persons.
Being hired by reclusive music producer Odi Huron to find a teenybop pop star should be her ticket out of Zoo City, the festering slum where the criminal underclass and their animal companions live in the shadow of hell’s undertow.
Instead, it catapults Zinzi deeper into the maw of a city twisted by crime and magic, where she’ll be forced to confront the dark secrets of former lives – including her own.
Author Lauren Beukes has a gift for relaying information to the reader in a way that just flows and reads natural, not forced. All of the sudden you realize how much you have learned about the world without ever having felt like you had to sit through long sections of world building “information” or “background”. And keep in mind, there is a good amount of world building and information getting across to the reader, it is just seamlessly integrated with the story.
Animal companions are kind of a scarlet letter, marking those that have committed crimes serious enough to warrant them. They can also grant their assigned human unique abilities. Our protagonist (Zinzi), while she seems to be a good person, had some misfortune that resulted in being prosecuted and her being paired with a sloth, named “Sloth”. Thanks to her sloth, Zinzi now has the ability to locate lost things.
It is an interesting aspect to be so clearly marked as someone who has committed a crime. If you are a criminal and have been paired with an animal, people will refer to you as a “Zoo”. Strangers have no idea of a person’s circumstances, their actual criminal record or how remorseful they may or may not be about it. But they can see them with their animal, they know they are a Zoo, and they can clearly judge on that basis alone. And, of course they do. People labeled as Zoos are always outsiders.
I also found it intriguing that as part of this punishment, they may acquire an ability, which really sounds cool instead of sounding like a punishment to me. Of course, Zinzi sees it more as a means to an end, an opportunity to use the crappy hand she has been dealt to try and make a bit of money.
She finds jobs reuniting people with their lost things. While she can locate people, she has a typical policy against it. Enter our plot. Zinzi is short on money, and is under pressure to repay debt, so when given the opportunity to find a missing musician, she decides to take the job. I have to confess to being more interested in the world than I was in the actual plot, but maybe that was the point. There is so much going on with the effects of being marked and how this society works, that Zinzi’s investigation/hunt to find the musician is more just a means to deliver it. Also, Beukes’ descriptions really paint a vivid picture. The tunnels
The story is dark and unique. Reading an author in reverse publishing order is interesting. If I *had* to pick favorites, I would be forced to admit that I don’t love this book as much as I do her other ones, but I can see the aspects of Beukes writing that have quickly put her on my must read list. And it makes sense that her stories get stronger as she progresses, so I’m not sure there’s any fault to be had here. That said, Zoo City is so incredibly unique and does have it strengths, I definitely recommend it.
I have challenged and committed myself to reading at least one book from my backlist every month and posting the review on the last Friday of the month. I invite anyone interested to join me and link up their own Backlist Burndown reviews. I will offer the link at the bottom of my monthly Backlist Burndown reviews, and also will keep a running record of the reviews on my Dracarys! Backlist Burndown page available from my top menu.