The Great Zoo of China is the twelfth novel written by Matthew Reilly, which follows herpetologist CJ Cameron.
It is a secret the Chinese government has been keeping for forty years. They have found a species of animal no one believed even existed.
The Chinese are ready to unveil their fabulous creatures in the greatest zoo ever constructed. VIPs and journalists, including reptile expert Dr Cassandra Jane 'CJ' Cameron, are invited to see the beasts for the first time.
The visitors are assured by their Chinese hosts that they are perfectly safe, that nothing can go wrong.
Of course it can't...
Bill Lynch, a herpetologist from America, is fleeing from a group of hostile Chinamen, who want to liquidate him before he can ruin their facility's reputation following an incident where people died. Taking refuge in a cave, Lynch notices they have switched off his sonic shield, and his pursuers' leader, Colonel Bao, orders him to hand himself over for a quick death. When Lynch refuses, Bao mocks the herpetologist by claiming that with his death, Lynch's protégé, Cassandra Jane Cameron, will likely be brought in as a replacement consultant, to which Lynch warns him that Cameron is far tougher than him. At that moment, Lynch realises that he is in a carnivore's lair, and Bao's men move away as a creature, which Lynch recognises as a Red-Bellied Black, arrives and brutally kills him.
Cassandra Jane "CJ" Cameron, a former herpetologist who moved on to be a veterinarian after being facially scarred by a saltwater crocodile while saving a boys' life, is contacted by an old friend from National Geographic and asked to follow an assignment about a potentially revolutionary zoo in China. CJ declines at first, until she is told that she was personally requested for her expertise following Lynch's death (which was reported as being caused in a plane crash). Deciding to agree, she enlists he photographer brother, Hamish Cameron, to join her as they head to Hong Kong. Before they continue on to their secret destination, CJ and Hamish are introduced to other guests to the zoo; New York Times reporters Seymour Wolfe and Aaron Perry, and the American Ambassador Kirk Syme and his assistant Greg Johnson.
While being escorted to the Zoo in a private jet with blacked-out windows, the group debate what the Chinese could possibly have that is rumoured to be able to revolutionise their country's status in the world. Upon arrival to the zoo's outer airfield, CJ and the other guests are introduced to Bao, the Zoo's Deputy Director Zhang and Hu Tang, China's Head of Propaganda and the idealist behind the Zoo. As they are taken to the zoo's entrance, the group witnesses the secret that the Chinese have been hiding, the zoo houses living, breathing dragons, hence the zoo's true name, the Great Dragon Zoo of China, which is intended to be China's answer to Disneyland.
Taken to an open auditorium, and passing another set of guests which comprises of some major members of China's Communist Party, the guests are told that the dragons are an ancient reptilian species distantly related to dinosaurs, and were spared from extinction during the KT Event due to the establishment of a nest of eggs beneath a nearby nickel deposit. When the Chinese discovered them back in the 1980's, they decided to keep it a secret until they could find a way to revolutionise China's reputation in the process, with Tang eventually suggesting the creation of a zoo. The dragons, Tang explains, have six species, each with the same three size classes, Princes, which are the size of horses, Kings that are the size of buses, and finally Emperors, which grow to the same size a an airliner.
As part of a demonstration, dragon handler Yim introduces a member of the Yellowjackets, named Lucky, and five Red-Bellied Blacks to show off their capabilities. CJ notices that the dragons are fitted with a small box on their skulls, which she suspects to be a form of control after noticing the Red-Bellies are more reluctant to perform, but her curiosity leads her to asking a few questions about the dragons, allowing her to make correct assumptions about their physiology, which annoys Tang. Before they begin venturing into the Zoo, the guests are given glasses that shows how dragons see the electrical impulses of other animals, and watches containing a sonic shield that will keep dragons from attacking them due to their sensitive hearing.
During the tour, CJ meets an old friend, Go "Go-Go" Guan, who is working at the Zoo, and learns that another former colleague, Ben Patrick, is also working there on the dragon's unique vocalisations. Hamish questions why the dragons don't just fly out of the Zoo, to which Zhang and Tang explain that the dragons have been implanted with a microchip that prevents them from passing through a pair of electromagnetic shields emitted over the Zoo. While the other guests are impressed with the Zoo, CJ is less enthusiastic and questions the safety statistics they are provided, asking how many people have died in the years since the dragons were hatched and raised. Tang claims that there have never been any fatalities, though CJ doesn't believe him.
Towards the end of the tour, CJ's fears prove correct when a group of Red-Bellied Blacks attack their cable car. CJ sees that the dragons have torn out their own ears to counter the sonic shields on the buildings, vehicles and guests. The group escapes to the nearby Administration Building, but the smaller Princes are able to pursue them, and in the ensuing chaos, Tang, Wolfe and Perry are separated from the others while Yim is killed by the same Red-Bellied Blacks from the demonstration. CJ sees the Red-Bellies harassing Lucky and rescues her by driving her cage away while the others flee in their own garbage truck towards the Nesting Centre. During the chase, CJ hears several strange voices coming in on Yim's recovered headset, and kills a couple of the pursuing Red-Bellies while being harassed by particularly intent individuals she nicknames Red-Face and Melted Face, having burned the latter's face with petrol.
After being forced to divert to Birthing Centre, the group is relieved when the Zoo's security starts forcing the dragons back. After Tang and Bao arrive, CJ overhears them discussing how most of the Red-Bellied Blacks are responsible for the chaos, as well as a few Eastern Greys, with a couple of the Red-Bellied Princes that made it through a gate in the Administration Building are wandering around some dead-end maintenance tunnels. Tang tells CJ and the others that they will be reunited with Wolfe and Perry and escorted back to their plane for a return home. All are furious with the incident, though Tang himself is also secretly enraged that none of the Zoo's safety consultants predicted the possibility of the dragons mutilating themselves to overcome the sonic shields.
As they are escorted away, the guests realise they are not heading to the airfield, but their escort leader, Captain Wong, takes them to a swamp where they are to be executed to prevent them from informing the world about the disaster that has taken place. They are also joined by Go-Go; due to his friendship with CJ it is expected that he would also reveal the disaster if he learned of her death. As Perry is killed, CJ realises that Lynch met the same fate, which Wong confirms, and so CJ and Hamish improvise an escape using everyday tools in the packs they were given at the start of the tour, resulting in everyone falling into the swamp. Luckily CJ is able to convince her allies not to move while crocodiles kill Wong and his panicked men, before they slowly make their way to the shore.
Deciding to try and find a phone to call for help, the group starts heading to the Casino, and CJ questions Johnson, who demeanor and previously demonstrated combat skills have led her to suspect he is what he seems. He admits that he is really a CIA agent who had posed as Syme's assistant to gain access to the zoo in order to confirm the presence of three thermobaric bombs the Chinese obtained in a shady deal, which he has realised is intended to wipe out the dragons should they get loose. After escaping a Chinese attack group, CJ and the others instead decide to try finding a phone at Dragon Mountain, but a second attack leads CJ to realise that their sonic shields also contain GPS trackers. When the battle between the second group of assailants and some dragons separates CJ, Johnson and Go-Go from the others, she tells her brother to ditch their sonic shields to avoid being tracked, and to listen out for a radio call from her later.
While Hamish, Syme and Wolfe take shelter, CJ, Johnson and Go-Go make their way to the top of Dragon Mountain, where they encounter Li, a young engineer whom CJ met earlier, who helps her realise that the Red-Bellies are trying to enact an escape and bring down the first electromagnetic shield. Indeed the Red-Bellies in the Administration Building's maintenance tunnels destroy the main power supply to the Zoo, disabling the first shield and completely cutting off the Zoo's power since the backup generator was already damaged. Tang and Bao's convoy are attacked by more Red-Bellies, and the two escape while the vehicles are picked up and used by the dragons to break into the Dragon Mountain restaurant, just as CJ's group find themselves confronted by yet another attack squad.
In the chaos, Go-Go is killed, Li is apparently killed, and Johnson is injured, so CJ hides him away - but not before giving him a quick kiss - and rigs the kitchens to explode. Using a cable to descend out the window, CJ is saved from Red-Face by Lucky, who seems to insist for her to get on her back. As the restaurant blows up, CJ is flown to safety by Lucky, and taken to the Yellowjacket's clan. At Lucky's prompting, CJ changes Yim's earpiece's frequency, and is astonished to be able to understand Lucky's vocalisations; Patrick had created a revolutionary translation system between some dragons and their trainers. In the course of their "conversation", CJ learns that the Red-Bellies are intending to free their kind's super-class dragons, a Super-King and Super-Emperor, slightly larger dragons which are capable of breathing fire unlike all of the others. From there, they will attempt to escape the Zoo and head to another, larger, dragon nest, hidden beneath another nickle deposit a short distance away in order to rouse the infant dragons there, thus causing a worldwide plague of dragons.
CJ has Lucky fly her back to the restaurant, where they find Li is still alive, but Johnson is missing. CJ also finds that Patrick, who was in one of the trucks used to break into the restaurant, is also alive. Patrick explains that the dragons each have a tiny pain-enforcers in their implanted chips, with a control inside the Birthing Centre where the super dragons are kept, and that the dragons would need to bring down a pair of generators at both the military airfield and Worker's city to bring down the second electromagnetic dome. Li agrees to help CJ recover the control for the dragon's chips, though Patrick opts to remain behind.
Lucky flies CJ and Li to the Birthing Centre, but the code Patrick gave them for the safe containing the control doesn't work. At that moment, they witness the Red-Bellies free their kind's Super-King and Emperor, which quickly begin eliminating the other Super-dragons of the other species. CJ and Lucky swoop in to save Minnie, the grand-daughter of one of the now-dead communist party guests before the Super Red-Bellies can eat her. Red-Face and Melted Face pursue them into the original nest, where Lucky challenges both of the Red-Bellies to a joust, resulting in the death of Melted Face and injury of Red-Face.
Meanwhile, Hamish, Wolfe and Syme abandon their exposed shelter to try and cross the river to nearby safety, however they are attacked by Green River dragons, resulting in Wolfe's death. After reuniting with Li, CJ realises that the Red-Bellies are going to attack the generators at the Worker's City first, and comes up with a plan to keep them from escaping. Contacting Hamish, she tells him to go to the airfield and prepare to defend the generator there for as long as possible while she and Li will repair the Worker's City's generator before they can bring down the dome, since the dragons can't comprehend human being able to repair them. Before they go, CJ stiches Lucky's wounds, and removes the chip inside her skull, allowing the Yellowjacket to be able to move outside the shield dome.
Meanwhile, Bao and Tang have arrived at the airfield, and Bao has his men prepare to engage the dragons for when they approach the airfield, whilst also preparing the thermobaric weapons situated around the Zoo. Though Tang is reluctant, Bao reminds him that they have more dragon eggs elsewhere, so they would be able to rebuild the Zoo from scratch. Shortly after arriving at the Worker's city, the Red-Bellies successfully damage the generator enough, and they move on to the airfield. As Hamish and Syme use a firetruck to defend the generator, CJ and Li begin repairing the one in the Worker City, but are harassed by Eastern Greys as they do so.
When the Red-Bellied Super-King destroys the generator, it and two regular Emperors are able to escape before CJ and Li finish their work and restore the dome. Bao and Tang are suprised at the reactivation of the dome, and the former halts the thermobaric detonation, deciding that they can handle three escaped dragons. CJ and Lucky pursue the three Red-Bellies to the second nest, arriving just as they are awakening the eggs within. Lucky challenges the Super-King, barely managing to emerge victorious after tricking the much larger dragon into flying high speed into the nest's wall, and CJ takes out the two Emperors. CJ them uses a flamethrower and some grenades to destroy the nest before they head back to the Zoo.
While contacting Hamish in order to prepare to leave the Zoo, Patrick contacts CJ, asking for her to help him escape as well. She agrees to meet him at the Zoo's entrance, but takes two detours; first to pick up Minnie, then to Lucky's clan, where she also removes the implants keeping them in the Zoo. Upon meeting with Patrick, CJ realises too late that it is a trap, and that he has set her up so that the Chinese can kill her. Patrick, who had intentionally given her the wrong code for th control safe, defends his actions by noting that his work with the dragons will be the making of his career. Tang expresses no sympathy either, since the Great Dragon Zoo is necessary to secure China's standing in the changing world order.
Suddenly Johnson's voice is projected around the Zoo; he is still alive and has taken control of one of the thermobaric bombs and set it to explode without the possibility of being disarmed, even by him. Then Red-Face appears and mutilates Tang's face before attack Bao's men. Bao executes the suffering Tang before engaging CJ, and while attempting to drop her over the side of the building ends up falling to his own death. Red-Face is finally killed when CJ force-feeds the Red-Bellied Black a grenade, and Lucky kicks Patrick so hard that his spine breaks.
With Johnson unable to disable the bomb, CJ gathers all the survivors together, and along with Lucky's clan, escape the Zoo and make it to the minimum safe distance just as it goes off, the vacuum effect killing the dragons still in the Zoo, as well as the barely-alive Patrick. Over the next couple of days, CJ leads the Yellowjackets to a small island north of Australia, where they will be able to live in peace and isolation, and stays with them for a short while as the others return to America.
Some time later, Syme has made a private report about the situation to the President, Minnie has been returned to her family, while the Chinese have covered up the carnage at the Zoo. CJ takes a position working at Darwin Zoo whilst also starting a relationship with Johnson, and takes regular leave to visit the Yellowjackets.
- Cassandra Jane "CJ" Cameron - Noted herpertologist and veterinarian
- Hamish Cameron - CJ's brother and her photographer & videographer
- Seymour Wolfe - Columnist from the New York Times
- Aaron Perry - Journalist from New York Times e-news division
- Kirk Syme - US Ambassador to China
- Greg Johnson - Syme's Chief Aide
Zoo Staff & Security ForcesEdit
- Hu Tang - Head of Propoganda of the Chinese Communist Party
- Colonel Bao - Head of Zoo Security
- Chow Wei - Zoo Director
- Zhang - Deputy Zoo Director
- Ben Patrick - Vocalisation Expert
- Go "Go-Go" Guan - Herpetologist
- Li - Electrical Engineer
- Captain Wong - Security Unit Leader
- Yim - Lucky's Handler
- Na - Escort to CJ and Hamish
- Bill Lynch - CJ's former mentor
- Don Grover - CJ's former boss at National Geographic
- Xin Xili - Reporter for China Central Television
- Sun Dianlong - A lead Communist Party official
- Min "Minnie" - Young grand-daughter of Communist Party guest
- Red-Bellied Blacks
- Purple Royals
- Eastern Greys
- Green Rivers
- Swamp Browns
On January 28th 2016, Reilly tweeted that the movie rights to The Great Zoo of China had been optioned by TriStar Pictures.
- This is technically the second novel to feature a lead character who is female, following The Tournament, where Elizabeth I was one of the two main protagonists.
- Reilly originally came up with the concept for this novel shortly after completing Scarecrow in 2003.
- Many comparisons with Jurassic Park are noted within the story itself.
- Some characters' names were used because some fans purchased the opportunity at a charity auction; these include Hamish Cameron and Bill Lynch.
- Others still use names based on people Reilly is friends with; for example Kirk Syme and Greg Johnson.
- In the interview included in the published edition of Troll Mountain, Reilly notes that he could potentially write a sequel to the Great Zoo of China in the future.