A group of journalists are invited to China for a sneak glimpse of a secret zoo the Chinese government has been working on for years.A zoo that is keeping on display creatures everyone believed were just a myth – Dragons. But as one might expect, not everything goes to plan at the Great Zoo of China as the journalists soon find themselves under siege by the zoo’s occupants.

Let’s start with the negatives shall we? Does it read like Jurassic Park fan-fiction? – Absolutely. The similarities are self evident. A group of scientists (in this case journalists) are invited to a mysterious park (zoo), the like of which the world has never seen before, only for things to go horribly wrong as the dinosaurs (dragons) escape to wreck havoc.

Jurassic Park at least had the benefit of a range of fleshed out characters. The same cannot be said here. Among the interchangeable journalists, scientists and guards, the majority of which serve the sole purpose of dragon snacks, the only character with any measure of depth is our heroine – CJ. And what is the extent of that depth? Well CJ, despite being intelligent, respected in her field and attractive is…wait for it…disfigured by a facial scar! Gasp. With half a page of backstory on how CJ came to obtain her scar after an encounter with a crocodile, and how, hilariously, her boyfriend immediately abandoned upon seeing her scarred face, we can now sympathize with CJ and thankfully get back to the action. No point in wasting any more time on character development is there? Not when dragons are attacking!

In this sense, Matthew Riley really is the Michael Bay of literature – forsaking character development, plot and dialogue for more explosions! And let’s be honest, the writing is far from great. The overuse of exclamation marks, ellipses and hyphens to convey action and tension will grate on anyone with  basic grasp of Dr. Suess.

However, you don’t read Matthew Riley for any of the above reasons do you? You read Matthew Riley for the action. And the Great Zoo of China is action packed…no literally, of the 393 pages I’d estimate 90% are action scenes. It’s here that the Great Zoo of China finds it’s niche. It plays out like a big, bloated, cheesy but fun action movie in your head. It’s easy to read and perfect to dip into as the short chapters describe every possible action scenario involving dragons that Matthew Riley could dream up.

If you pick up the Great Zoo of China expecting Shakespeare you will of course be disappointed. But if you go into the novel knowing exactly what it is: a big, dumb, gory, action romp of dragons on the loose, you will have a great time.

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Published by Daniel Fullerton