The Dinosaur Lords: Even dinosaurs can’t fully save it

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milan fantasy book reviewsThe Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán

It takes no effort at all to imagine what the “elevator mash-up pitch” for Victor Milán’s The Dinosaur Lords was: “It’s Jurassic Park meets Game of Thrones!”  And darned if that wholly predictable selling phrase isn’t the main blurb (provided by none other than George R.R. Martin himself) sitting right above the title of my copy. And herein lie two of the problems with The Dinosaur Lords. One is that, like that mash-up blurb, there are no surprises awaiting the reader here; it’s pretty much same old same old European medieval historical fantasy with the usual smidgeon of magic. And two is that it rises nowhere near the level of either of its metaphorical parents (and yes, you can include Jurassic Park 2 and 3 in that comparison if you’d like). Now, granted, Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones are pretty tough acts to follow, so saying The Dinosaur Lords isn’t as good as either comes as no surprise, and it’s true that it is not a bad book by any means. But it’s equally true that despite having dinosaurs in it (dinosaurs!), it is as flat and meandering a book as I’ve read in a while. A reality that both befuddles and saddens me, because, well, dinosaurs.

Emperor Felipe sits on the Fanged Throne of Neuvaropa at a troubled time. As he attempts to centralize power and rise above his mostly figurehead position, he faces rebellion amongst princes and barons, pressure from the Church, and potential trouble from a new pacifistic religious sect, not to mention disapproval of his policies from his feisty daughter Melodia. Besides the Emperor and the princess, other major characters in this swirl of politics, intrigue, and war include:

  • Rob Korrigan: Dinosaur master, minstrel, semi-mercenary
  • Karyl Bogomirskiy: one of the greatest war commanders and leader of an undefeated Triceratops cavalry who finds himself a fallen man upon losing his most recent battle
  • Imperial Champion Jaume: poet, commander of the Empire’s army, leader of a small, elite religious military order — The Companions, and Melodia’s lover and hopefully her eventual betrothed
  • Duke Falk: a young noble who fights against the Empire (riding atop his T-Rex mount) but then is pardoned and joins the Emperor’s court
  • Bogardus: leader of the pacifists of Providence who hires Rob and Karyl to help his people defend themselves against predatory nobles in the area

Structurally, The Dinosaur Lords follows multiple POVs along a dual-tracked plot: one following the larger political events involving the Emperor’s attempts to pacify the country via military force, led by Jaume, the other following Rob and Karyl’s attempts to defend Providence (“It’s Jurassic Park meets Game of Thrones meets The Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven!”). Bookending the major story through a prologue and epilogue, and referenced throughout, is the overarching mythology of this world, involving the Eight Creators and their Seven Grey Angels, the one aspect of the novel that lends a bit of freshness, though I couldn’t help but think  (probably unfairly), “It’s Jurassic Park meets Game of Thrones meets The Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven meets Pern!”

Sequel

I’ve already mentioned how the book felt wholly “flat” to me, and I can’t think of a better word to describe either the plotting or the characterization. Both plotlines have a plodding one-lumbering-step-then-another feel to them (think Apatosaurus), with little sense of variation, of urgency, of surprise (worse, some events are wholly predictable). Almost a paint-by-numbers sense of pace and event, to mix my metaphors. A lot happens in both storylines at the close, but some of it feels quite implausible, some of it treads the same narrative ground we’ve seen many, many, times before, and all it feels more than a little abrupt. Nor is there any real sense of an overarching or progressing narrative.

In between the beginning and end of The Dinosaur Lords, the narrative is punctuated by set scenes involving dinosaurs — several large battle scenes, a skirmish or two, a jousting tournament, but that feel just like that — set scenes. There’s little life to them, little sense of the awesome and the fantastical that should surround scenes with dinosaurs.

There’s an equal lack of liveliness in the characters. Karyl at least has the excuse of having died (a plot point that should carry more interest than it does), but one wishes that weren’t played so literally in his presentation. The characters either feel just as mechanical as the plot or feel just as empty as the set scenes — with little sense of motivation or personality beyond what serves the plot or beyond the usual stock character type, such as the feisty princess who chafes at being ignored and having little of substance to do or the arrogantly stupid (or is that stupidly arrogant?) nobles who scorn the “little people.”  It’s hard to buy Rob as a minstrel, since he seems to have none of the personality traits one would assume go with that role (not to mention it seems a stretch that one can master two time-intensive professions such as dinosaur master and minstrel), and it’s equally hard to buy one of the villains in the story, though I won’t go into spoilerish detail.

Other issues crop up as well. Some plot points are dropped completely or nearly so. A few characters come a bit out of the blue in terms of their actions. The main female character is not only more than a little stock but also frustratingly passive and, at least so far, nearly entirely unimportant in terms of impact on events. Finally, I had a major problem with a rape scene which seemed unnecessary, out-of-character (at least as the character has been represented), and way too perfunctory. All this beyond my generally increasing distaste for how often and in what manner this “plot device” is used.

As I said in my opening, The Dinosaur Lords isn’t a “bad” book, my complaints notwithstanding. The prose is fine, there are no egregious issues of craft, no internal contradictions, no abrupt shifts, etc. And the background mythos has some real potential. But if it isn’t bad, it’s also doesn’t really rise above serviceably mundane. And in a book with dinosaurs (dinosaurs!) at its center, that may be the most unpredictable and fantastical thing that happens.

Publication date: July 28, 2015. “It’s like a cross between Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones.” –George R. R. Martin. A world made by the Eight Creators on which to play out their games of passion and power, Paradise is a sprawling, diverse, often brutal place. Men and women live on Paradise as do dogs, cats, ferrets, goats, and horses. But dinosaurs predominate: wildlife, monsters, beasts of burden-and of war. Colossal plant-eaters like Brachiosaurus; terrifying meat-eaters like Allosaurus, and the most feared of all, Tyrannosaurus rex. Giant lizards swim warm seas. Birds (some with teeth) share the sky with flying reptiles that range in size from bat-sized insectivores to majestic and deadly Dragons. Thus we are plunged into Victor Milán’s splendidly weird world of The Dinosaur Lords, a place that for all purposes mirrors 14th century Europe with its dynastic rivalries, religious wars, and byzantine politics…except the weapons of choice are dinosaurs. Where vast armies of dinosaur-mounted knights engage in battle. During the course of one of these epic battles, the enigmatic mercenary Dinosaur Lord Karyl Bogomirsky is defeated through betrayal and left for dead. He wakes, naked, wounded, partially amnesiac-and hunted. And embarks upon a journey that will shake his world.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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2 comments

  1. But…but…dinosaurs!!

  2. Phew! I thought I was the only one!

    I’m a little over halfway through right now, and while I do think Milan has lovely prose, and there is nothing I can point to as “bad”, there is also nothing that I really catching me. I think the term “flat” describes it perfectly.

    Still have the last half to go though, so, we’ll see how thing go.

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