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Zoo City

by Lauren Beukes

genre: urban fantasy

A unique novel, urban fantasy set in South Africa. However, I couldn’t accept the premise (will explain in the review) and I had trouble following the story. For me it was a 2 star book, but several people in the discussion group really enjoyed it. Read on to see if you’d enjoy it.

Synopsis from Goodreads

Zoo CityZinzi 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.


It was interesting to read an urban fantasy novel set in South Africa, but I couldn’t accept the premise. I’m not even sure the author knew what she was talking about when she created the world.

Premise: People who sin are given animal manifestations of their sins that they must carry around (or if too big, keep near them) at all times (except for that one shark or whale or whatever it was… with no explanation as to why that one was an exception to the rule). They are spirit creatures who are given to sinners during church or find their way to their person on their own, appearing in places they shouldn’t have been able to get into, like jail. Some have magical powers. One inmate has a butterfly that allows him to live life as another person while he sleeps. “Animals” which refers to both the spirit animal and the people attached to them. Animals are the lowest class of human being.

Me: So… if I sin, I get a magical spirit companion. What am I missing? What is the incentive to not sin, because that sounds more like an incentive to sin. Other than the public shame, I kinda want a magical spirit animal who is bound to me and may give me magical powers. Sorry, I just don’t get it.

On top of that, there’s the whole, is it magic, is it religion, is it science fiction? I have decided to mark it as urban fantasy because Zinzi uses magic. Even though the animals are related to sin and the church, or if you believe another side story, the result of evolving into a super human, fantasy seemed the most appropriate tag.

Keep in mind, I bought the Audiobook.

Inserted into the story are documents, movies, and other cut-aways. I was told that in the print copy, these are offset by document headings, different fonts or margins, and other indicators. The audiobook would only have been more confusing if it was in a foreign language. I don’t know how many times I went, “wait what?” and had to rewind. The 9 1/2 hour story probably took me 15 hours of listening time to actually get through.

Final Thoughts: If you’re doing any kind of A-Z book title challenge, you could do worse. That’s actually how I found the book so it served its purpose. Some people had trouble with the slang, but the context clues were enough for me. Some parts were gruesome, but overall not bad.

You might like this book if…

  • You’re tired of the same-old same-old and want to read something unique.
  • You read the print version. I do not recommend the audiobook.

You might not like this book if…

  • You want a light and fluffy read with no naked people and no bloody murders.

2 out of 5 stars.
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-Eliabeth Hawthorne