Author: Lauren Beukes
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Review By: Shana
Wow. That was entirely different! An exciting, insightful, strange, gritty, and unexpected ride. Calling this book an urban fantasy and crime noir only scratches the surface. The story takes place in Joburg, South Africa, in the early 2000s, with one major twist. A worldwide phenomenon has occurred -- people who do things that make them feel extreme guilt
(usually murders, rapes, and the like) are afflicted with Acquired Aposymbiotic Familiarism (AAF). Sufferers with AAF, or colloquially the "animalled" or "Zoos", find that an animal has appeared (bear, sloth, mongoose, Maltese, scorpion, butterfly, . . . you get the idea) out of thin air as something of a familiar, and with their appearance the animalled develops some form of special ability. The animalled cannot be separated by too much distance from their animals or else risk paranoia and increasing discomfort, and if their animal dies, the Undertow comes for them -- some sort of dark malevolent force.
The story's protagonist is Zinzi December, whose familiar is a sloth and who has the special ability of being able to find lost things. Beukes has written an absolutely fantastic book, weaving sharp dialog and social commentary with action. Since most of the animalled have committed some sort of terrible crime, there is discrimination against the Zoos (different countries have different norms), including housing discrimination. The idea of two classes is especially interesting as it is set in South Africa.
Beukes reveals enough to make the world fully realized and interesting, but also leaves plenty of gray areas (as in the source of AAP is unknown, many theories abound, and people are divided over whether the special gifts are magic or have some rational basis). A unique book and highly recommended.