Matthew Reilly delving into a world of dragons

WHEN Matthew Reilly first pictured a zoo full of dragons in 2003, the thought was too fanciful to fully consider.

Eleven years and half a dozen books later, Matthew is celebrating the release the novel based on that idea.

The Great Zoo of China sees a return to Matthew's rampaging, action-packed, blockbuster best with more than enough blood, gore and guns to keep his most dedicated fans hanging onto every last page.

It's unusual, Matthew explained, for a novel to take him eleven years to create, but with The Great Zoo of China "it was a case of waiting for the world to catch up with my idea".

The initial concept came as Matthew walked around a little dragon museum he'd stumbled upon in Switzerland.

Watching China grow throughout the 2000s to become one of the dominant world powers, Matthew realised the zoo could be set in the modern-day Asian country.

In the novel, the zoo is billed as China's answer to Disneyland to the team of American journalists, political VIPs and experts who visit it for a sneak-peak.

Shrouded in secrecy, the zoo has been created over decades and the team have no idea they're about to witness a myth coming to life.

As with any of Matthew's books though, things start to go awry and that's when it becomes impossible to stop reading.

"Sometimes books are incremental advances, but sometimes you do one which is a real quantum leap forward and The Great Zoo of China is a real quantum leap in scale and pace on my previous action books," Matthew said.

"I think (it's) just more sophisticated and bigger in every way."

But the real stars of the novel are the dragons Matthew has created, which seem ready to leap off the page at any second.

Crafted after of hours of research into dragon myths and legends, Matthew said bringing these ferocious beasts to life was one of the things he was most proud of in the book.

He said one of the interesting things about the dragon myth was that it truly was global and spanned centuries.

"It's really weird that the Aborigines or the Mayans or the Vikings or the Greeks or the Persians or the British should all have a myth about some giant flying serpent, and of course China as well," he said.

"Of course, then you start to research alligators, sharks and large predatory animals, which is an enormous amount of fun.

"When you're creating a dragon you get to give it the greatest predatory skills of any animal."

Yet, another "little bit of electricity" running through the story is what Matthew describes as "our fascination with China", which is almost as chilling as the dragons themselves.

The Great Zoo of China comes after Matthew's 2013 novel, The Tournament.

Shocking fans of his action blockbusters, The Tournament saw Matthew delve successfully into historical fiction as he explored the relationship between a teenaged Queen Elizabeth I and her tutor Roger Ascham.

"A lot of people come to the signings and they say 'I wasn't sure about the chess book, but I really enjoyed it'," Matthew said.

"I'm so pleased, because sometimes you have to trust yourself with a bit of a gamble and readers have really responded to The Tournament."

While Matthew won't rule out a return to the genre, he said any novel would have to revolve around another real-life relationship involving a historical figure.

"Strangely enough, I think I needed to branch away with The Tournament to be able to do The Great Zoo of China," he said.

"Constantly writing large-scale action in a way can wear you out, so taking a little departure … made this one even more fun for me to write and hopefully for people to read."

Having finally written and released The Great Zoo of China, Matthew said he was now free to return to fan-favourite character Jack West Jr who featured in Seven Ancient Wonders, The Six Sacred Stones and The Five Greatest Warriors.

"I've got three-quarters of the idea, but until I've got the whole thing I won't start it because you've got to be all-in on these things," Matthew said.

And while he hinted at the possibility of Jack West Jr and another beloved character Shane Schofield, known as Scarecrow, meeting in a "mega story", Matthew said anything like that was at least two years away.

Releasing two novels in successive years, as well as short story Troll Mountain, and touring nationally has taken its toll.

"When you release a book there's a lot of revisions … there's actually quite a lot of work in making sure the whole thing is there and looking perfect and that takes it out of you," Matthew said.

"When this book tour is done, I'm going to have a good lie down and a rest and then spend all of next year just working on a book."

That's something fans will surely be delighted to hear, once they've recovered from the wild ride that is The Great Zoo of China.

A copy of the book was provided by Pan Macmillan Australia. 

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