Sent to you by moya via Google Reader:
Description: Cover of Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. Against the background of a red-purple cityscape are the golden-toned faces of Zinzi, a young black South African woman with a sloth peeking its head over her shoulder, and two guys (supporting characters? haven't read the book) whose faces are melded with a beaky crow and a fluffy white dog respectively.
Zoo City is urban fantasy that actually earns that label: it's fantasy in the gritty, urban environment of Johannesburg, South Africa. It's set in our world — almost. Some time in the 1990s, the Zoo Plague, or "Acquired Aposymbiotic Familiarism," manifested worldwide. The result of some unexplained mystic phenomenon, criminals now acquire tangible evidence of their sins at the moment of their crime: animal companions who are permanently bonded to them. Along with their animals, every "Zoo" also gains a unique magical talent, so it's not all bad. In fact, you might think getting a semi-intelligent animal companion and a magic power would be kind of cool — except that since everyone knows that an animal companion means you've committed some sort of serious crime, and you have a possibly shady magical talent, "Zoos" are persecuted worldwide. In some countries, it's social prejudice (predictably, in the U.S. it acquires a certain amount of gangsta cachet), in others, they're forced into ghettos, and some countries, like China, simply summarily execute anyone who becomes animalled.
[…] The premise by itself would make Zoo City interesting enough to check out — somewhat reminiscent of Wild Cards or some other setting where you've got a subclass of randomly "empowered" individuals each with a unique ability — but this book is set in South Africa, the modern, upscale South Africa of glam clubs and pop superstars and wifi cafes, but also the grim South Africa still haunted by colonialism and Apartheid, afflicted with refugee camps, AIDS, and endemic poverty.
The main character, our first-person narrator, is Zinzi December, a black South African girl who had a privileged upbringing with affluent parents and a career as a freelance journalist, but somewhere along the way she got a nasty drug habit, went in and out of rehab until her parents cut her loose, and then one fatal night, she got her brother killed, acquired a Sloth, and went to prison. Now she's out on parole, living in a Johannesburg ghetto known as "Zoo City," and trying to get out from under her drug debts. Her mashavi (magical talent) is finding lost things. She tries to earn a living by tracking down missing items for a fee ("No missing persons," she insists, so of course we know the plot will revolve around her trying to track down a missing person), but she supplements her income by running 419 scams for the criminal syndicate she owes money to.