Marlin is not slow, or mute; what he is is a stutterer, and that makes it impossible for him to convince people otherwise. What he is also is a Rackham: the youngest son of the world-famous explorer Roland Rackham, who is the owner and proprietor of the Zoo at the Edge of the World, a resort where the well-to-do from all over the world can come to experience the last bit of the wild left in the world at the end of the nineteenth century.
In order to impress a powerful duke who comes to visit the zoo, Marlin’s father ventures into the jungle and brings back a mysterious black jaguar, now the only one in captivity. Everyone is terrified of the jaguar, including Marlin—until one night, when the jaguar confers upon him a powerful gift. Soon Marlin finds himself with a difficult choice to make and, finally, something to say. If only he can figure out how to say it.
*Review copy provided by publisher. This in no way affects my opinion or review*
I enjoyed this book a lot more than I had expected to. I knew it would be interesting, but I hadn’t expected for it to be as deep and thought-provoking as it was! This story is about Marvin, whose family own the Zoo At The Edge of the World, a resort for wealthy people that were interested in travelling to South America and learning about the jungle.
Animals stories aren’t usually something that I like reading. The difference with The Zoo at the Edge of The World however, is that the plot is less focused on the animal’s lives, and more on the mysterious happenings at the Zoo, and the magic given to Marvin by the jaguar. I can’t stand reading about animals being hurt, and though there is a short scene that involves feeding a capybara to a giant snake, the book was pretty good in that aspect.
Speaking of animals, the jaguar (who won’t let anyone give him a name) was a more complex character than I’d anticipated. He can be kind to Marvin, but the Jaguar’s wants and needs always come first, at least in his mind. He is deceptive, cunning, and quite funny. Look at the passage below for an example. In this scene, Marvin is trying to explain to the jaguar how an oil lamp works.
“You see, we take the fat from a giant humpback whale … and smash it up and put in in a little clear jar like this one. We spin in on a special rock called flint that makes a spark, and it sets the whale fat on fire… That’s how we make fire!”
The Jaguar considered this. “You set a giant fish on fire with a rock?”
– (page 105) of the ARC. This quote is not final
See? Funny. Marvin is a stutterer, and he has trouble communicating with other people, but he can speak perfectly around animals. And, after the jaguar gives him magic, the animals can understand him and reply. Having a main character unable to talk to other people could have been a challenge, but the author handled this extraordinarily well. There is a lot of interior monologue in this story (it is very interesting though!), so if you tend to prefer stories packed with dialogue, then this might not be for you.
I was very surprised by how incredibly awful Marvin’s brother Tim treated Marvin, just because his younger brother had a speech disability. He was absolutely awful to Marvin, constantly lying to their father about his brother, mocking him and just trying his best to make Marvin miserable. I think that this would be a FANTASTIC novel to use in the classroom, since there are so many different parts of the story and it has moral messages that would be great for a 10-12 year old student.
This isn’t a spy thriller or anything nearly as action-packed, there was enough going on (especially by the end) to keep things interesting. I think that the last half of The Zoo At The Edge of The World had a lot of development for all of the characters, especially Marvin’s father. Although I wasn’t very happy with the ending, I can understand why the author decided to end the story in the way he did.
This book is quite short at just 240 pages, but I really did enjoy The Zoo At The Edge of The World. There were a few elements I didn’t enjoy as much, but I still definitely recommend it, and I can see this being a big hit with MG fans of animals and magic.