Zoo City is a fantasy. It is based in Johannesburg, South Africa. It is set some short time in the future or in an alternate reality.
The premise is utterly bizarre. People who commit violent crimes become psychically bonded to animals (from tigers to butterflies) and cannot stand for the bond between them and their animal to be broken. The "animaled" as they are called are the outcasts of society, of course, because they are murderers and the like, but there is a twist. Along with the psychic bond comes a special "ability", shall we say. Everybody is different, so there are a lot of surprises in the book.
The story is essentially a thriller/mystery type story which reads like cyberpunk but is actually magical fantasy. Again, like Moxyland, it is very local and South African, with references and local slang that will leave foreign readers nonplussed. Nevertheless, it has garnered rave reviews outside South Africa, so perhaps all that arcane locality goes down very well with outside readers and serves to add to the overall weirdness and hipness of the story. Beukes again sticks very closely to what she knows: the Johannesburg streets, journalism, the sights and sounds and South African slang, and the multi-cultural flavours of that society.
It is well written and has some gripping violence and action in it. I am looking forward to seeing what Beukes can do when she writes a more international novel in which she cannot rely on South African in-jokes to lend her work seeming depth. Frankly, I think Moxyland and Zoo City have bamboozled her international readership a bit: they are so hungry for something different that something prosaically South African does an incredible job of impressing the socks off them. I don't think this is deliberate, though, she just writes about what she knows without trying to explain anything to non-South African readers. This reminds me in a way of how the South African band, Die Antwoord, took the world by storm with its South African slang, the use of Afrikaans, and the hyper-real caricatures of South African white-trash rappers. Which, of course, is all fake. But it plays well.
Overall highly recommended, though, especially for South Africans who can understand Afrikaans and local slang. It was an engaging read with enough page-turning interest to keep this author on my horizon. I feel that we have not yet seen the best from Beukes and I look forward to reading her next novel, The Shining Girls, which seems to be set in America not South Africa....Continua
If you like urban fantasy at all this book is totally worth your time. While I don't have a lot to say about this book I've discovered I *do* have a lot of appreciation for it. I enjoy urban fantasy quite a bit, but more often than not I feel like I'm reading the same story over and over again. This book is not like that at all. It's fresh, interesting, gritty, and all around different. I found the world fascinating and rich, and the characters flawed and multifaceted. I hope Beukes writes more about this world, and at the very least I plan to pick up a copy of Moxyland....Continua