In my review of Planet of the Dragons, I complained that there weren’t enough dragons. Not so here. The Great Zoo of China is bursting at the seams with dragons of every color and size. Prince (horse-size), king (bus-size), and emperor (airplane-size) dragons. Yellow, red-bellied blacks, swamp dragons, etc. Possibly even too many dragons. Chalk it up to being careful what you wish for!
Regarding the debate about whether this book is too similar to Jurassic Park, I would say that the first half was too reminiscent, but that wasn’t a deal killer for me any more so than The Land That Time Forgot capitalizing on the Lost World a hundred years ago. Building on the popularity of another book isn’t a new development in the publishing industry. But like TLTTF and Lost World, the predecessor was superior to the successor.
The explanation for the origins of dragons and why different cultures have their own dragon legends is superb. It’s a truly great premise. Coupling that with the military and cultural ambitions of modern China is even better. My qualms are not with the fundamental story, but more so with the execution.
The writing in the book is uneven. There are excessive explanations of exactly who is located where with exactly which groups. It’s as if an attempt is being made to prove to the reader that the author hasn’t forgotten where all the characters are. Too many times when Chinese people are speaking, the text reiterates that they spoke “in Mandarin.” That got old. Generally, I assume the English speakers in the book are speaking English, and the Chinese ones are speaking Chinese. The only time it’s somewhat helpful is when the main American character, CJ, speaks in Mandarin, but even then, it’s not always needed. I didn’t really care what language anybody speaks as long as the book is in English.
The book was also marred by an awkward transition from happy albeit VIP tour of the dragon zoo to a nightmare. One passage we’ve had a great experience learning about the exotic dragons. We step inside for a nice lunch, and by the time we come out, the dragons have pulled off their electronic monitors and eat the humans. It was too abrupt.
Another problem in the beginning and middle was a lack of suspense. I guess I was supposed to sense that something would go terribly wrong, but I never got too worked up or engaged wondering what would happen next. Maybe it was because the characters weren’t quite compelling enough, or because the foreshadowing was too subtle or non-existent.
But the book definitely picked up toward the end. The various details gelled together and Frey presented several very clever ideas. A great concept and a solid ending earn this book a favorable rating.