by Carol Birch

Doubleday Books, $25.95, 298 pages

Jaffy Brown’s life changes when he is 8 years old and finds himself trapped in the jaws of a lion. That fateful encounter leads him to a job with Charles Jamrach, a collector and trader of exotic animals. Years later, he joins an expedition to hunt whales for oil and try to capture a rumored dragon for the animal collection.  The ship is waylaid by storms and the resulting events change Jaffy forever.

Jamrach’s Menagerie is an interesting tale of adventure, discovery and the limits of human endurance and resiliency. The author successfully creates a strong sense of time and place throughout the novel, both in England and on the ship and islands that are visited. The concept is also an interesting one and the metaphorical dragons in the book blend nicely with the quest for the real dragon. The author is less successful in making the reader care about the characters. There’s not enough revealed about most of them to make them real and the ones the reader does find out about are more annoying than endearing. In general, the book provides very little emotional pull but instead focuses on its adventurous aspects.

Reviewed by Barbara Cothern