Review: “The Cassowary,” James Sabata

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

James Sabata’s The Cassowary is meant to loosely go with Alan Baxter’s “The Roo” (possessed kangaroo), Stephanie Rabig’s “Playing Possum” (were-possums), and “The Buck Stops Here” by Sean Seebach (were-deer). Each novel is a monster story that attempts to balance humor with horror. I enjoyed “The Cassowary” more than the were-deer, but less than the other two.

Michael Flanders is a zookeeper at Arizona’s Toscana Wildlife Preserve. One night, he stops off to feed the cassowary, a dangerous large bird. The safety features at the zoo are impressive, but the cassowary has an odd light emanating from its eyes and seems to have… changed. When the cassowary starts killing people and escapes, zookeepers Jerome and Kaitlin and zoo veterinarian Thomas set off to find it and bring it in–preferably alive.

There are lots of scenes of the cassowary killing various people who only exist for the duration of those scenes. It’s gory and the scenes are good, but it takes too long for actual common threads and characters to be established. Because of this, it was a while before I found anyone to care about–so I wasn’t pulled very deeply into the story.

Especially near the beginning there are multiple people speaking in the same paragraphs, leading to a fair amount of confusion. There is some interesting commentary on social media both positive and negative: the escaped bird ends up trending, and while instant updates on sightings are very useful to the zoo keepers, people also die because they’re determined to get a selfie with it.

The book does eventually come around to explaining why the cassowary is this way (and why it keeps getting bigger!), and it’s a fairly entertaining tale. I also loved the fact that the cassowary once gets referred to as a “Lovecraftian turkey.” Another thing I enjoyed was a few humorous cassowary illustrations spread out in the book!

Content note for child death and gore.

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