This is the last of my World Fantasy Award reads, and this time I had to pony up for it--will donate it to the Library. And really, it was worthwhile, Zoo City is a unique read in many ways.
The book is set in Johannesburg, in a ghetto named after the book title. Our protagonist is Animalled--has an animal familiar, a side effect of having committed a major crime. This is supposedly the result of a virus of some kind, though there is a heavy dose of magic involved and the explanations don't really put all the pieces together. The author even has a reference to Pullman's Dark Materials series, since it is based on animal familiars as well. But Zoo City is much darker.
This is a noir mystery, and very well done. The book is aimed at the South African audience, with a later American release, so it's interesting to read a novel not aimed at us Yanks. Zinzi December is a sympathetic figure despite being a former and current criminal and drug addict. She is still trying to do right, trying to save children. The interplay with the animals is mildly underdone--they can't speak, so the interchanges are more like what one would have with a very close pet, as opposed to Pullman's dialogues. You could almost get the idea of what it would be like to be very attached to a very exotic pet in real life. Also interesting are the hints at societal accommodation (food for your animal in jail). There will be more, there's plenty of room for a sequel at the end. I recommend it with a solid three and half stars. Probably my favorite among the World Fantasy Award nominees this year.