Dragons, crocodiles and Communist Party bureaucrats abound in Reilly’s (Scarecrow Returns, 2012, etc.) latest thriller.
“China does big better than any other country, including America,” says New York Times columnist Seymour Wolfe, one of a handful of Americans invited by the Chinese government to tour a new zoo, a massive project to rival the Great Wall in ambition and splendor. Also on the tour is CJ Cameron, who was a renowned herpetologist until an alligator attack left her scarred and wary of large reptiles. Little does she know how much she’ll need to rely on her scientific expertise when the star attractions of the zoo are revealed to be 232 dragons living under electromagnetic domes in a man-made “primordial valley.” There's little action in the first hundred pages of the book while the author tries to establish the scientific plausibility of dragons that have escaped detection in the modern world. The dragons are said to be archosaurs—with similar features to pterodactyls—that survived extinction 65 million years ago by hibernating beneath thick layers of nickel and zinc deposits. The Chinese have been working on observing, raising and training the dragons for 40 years, but of course, they underestimate the intelligence of these beasts, and things go horribly wrong. Despite the many encyclopedic explanations of reptilian biology and behavior, as well as maps and illustrations of the zoo’s various areas and control rooms interspersed throughout the book, no amount of plausibility can overcome the lack of character development or the monotony of relentless action sequences. Although CJ is a smart and brave heroine, the other characters are virtually indistinguishable from one another, and none of the relationships are deepened.
This is Jurassic Park retold, without enough of a twist to make the retelling seem necessary.