Friday, November 11, 2011

Audiobook review: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

A fast-paced neo-noir journey through present-day alternate reality South Africa. With animal familiars!

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
Genre: Modern fantasy mystery
Length: 9h 25m
Audio publisher: Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio, 2011
Read by: Justine Eyre
Awards: 2011 Arthur C. Clarke Award,
2010 Kitschies Red Tentacle
From: Purchased from Audible

Story: Zinzi December lives among criminals and ex-criminals in the tough Johannesburg neighborhood of Zoo City with the other Animalled. Zinzi's animal is a sloth, and her talent is finding things. But don't ask her to find missing people.

Thoughts: My dream superpower is the ability to find lost things, so Zinzi December was a kindred spirit from the start. I loved her sloth, her tenacity, and her dress sense of "Grace Kelly meets Sailor Moon." Zoo City starts by following Zinzi as she goes about her piecemeal jobs. The beginning was a little rocky for me. It took a while to get a feel for the unusual setting and characters, but as soon as the main mystery plot came around, I was hooked. I'm a huge Raymond Chandler fan, and a noir detective story with magic is right up my alley.

The story is peppered with newspaper articles, website pages, and other media excerpts that describe the  recent appearance of animal familiars. The articles provide theories on where the animals might come from and why. They provide great back story and explain some of the differences between the Zoo City world and ours. Zoo City is also a travel log, showing Johannesburg from its slums and condemned buildings to multi-million Rand mansions. My one quibble is that the villain wasn't quite as unique and interesting as the rest of the cast. Luckily, Zoo City has more than enough characters to make up for it.

Reading: I'd heard Justine Eyre from her work on A Spy in the House by YS Lee, so I was a little surprised she was reading Zoo City. Zinzi is black African living in the inner city, but she's voiced with a very posh British accent. This choice is better explained as the story goes on and more of Zinzi's former life is reveled. I did enjoy the voices of Zinzi's friends and neighbors, especially BenoĆ®t, whose accent took me back to my time in West Africa and my own red and blue woven plastic bags.

Final thoughts: An amazing crime thriller through the backstreets of Joburg with a lot to say about guilt, discrimination, redemption, and fuzzy animals.

Grade: 4.5 out of 5

This post is part of Devourer of Books' weekly audio roundup, Sound Bytes. Have a look at the other great audiobook reviews from this week.

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