The Tower, The Zoo, and the Tortoise tells the story of one Balthazar Jones, a Beefeater working in The Tower of London who is continually grieving the loss of his 11-year-old son. When Jones suddenly finds himself the curator of a large menagerie of exotic animals belonging to the Queen, he must learn to manage his time between a host of beasts and birds and still make time to mend his failing marriage to a wife who doubts his loyalties. Throw in a chaplain who wins an erotic fiction award, a Ravenmaster who is as naughty as the birds he watches over, and one barmaid with a big secret and you’ve got yourself one romp of a good time…or so I thought.
When I first read about this new novel from British author, Julia Stuart, I simply couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Many reviews described it as a “whimsical real-life fairy tale”, “a dream of a novel for history buffs and animal lovers”, and “a true to life love story”. In other words…right up my alley. When it arrived in my mailbox I dove right in, knocking out the first 30 pages in a little less than 30 minutes. It was slow going from then on to the end.
The historical references were interesting…only because I didn’t know anything about The Tower of London before reading this book. Hearing about the history of this location and what went on there centuries ago had me more captivated than the current story of Balthazar Jones. As for the menagerie of exotic animals, they didn’t get their due at all. If you’re picking up this book for the cute animals on the cover, you’re going to be disappointed. One of the things I did like about this book was its take on marriage, love, and loss. If this novel is anything, it’s a look into a broken family. It’s a glimpse of what happens when the one thing that holds a marriage together is taken away…and how a husband and wife must cope and rebuild.
The story picked up a little bit at the end of the novel, finally answering the major questions the reader had from the beginning of the book…but even getting those answers wasn’t as satisfying as I hoped. For such a long build up, the answers we receive weren’t worth the wait.
Maybe it was because I was letting my imagination wander a bit while reading this novel, but I think The Tower, The Zoo, and the Tortoise would almost make a better movie than a book. Everything about the plot seems to be so visually stimulating that a 60-minute cartoon telling this story would completely change my mind about it.
NEXT WEEK: “It was a dark and stormy night…the moon was shining bright…giving not a hint of what’s in store…”
Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.