New Release Review! Victor Milan’s The Dinosaur Lords.
Hey look, a new release review!
Normally, I like to wait for paperbacks, or better yet, I like to scrounge up interesting looking books at used bookstores, but Tor.com had been pushing The Dinosaur Lords fairly hard. The fact that it’s straight up called The Dinosaur Lords couldn’t help but entice me. I’ve been waiting for this book to come out for awhile.
Incidentally, Victor Milan’s first novel is called Cybernetic Samurai, and I’ve had it sitting on my to-read pile for at least a year, year and a half now. Dude has a way with high-concept titles, I guess.
Anyway, I picked up The Dinosaur Lords about a week ago, and thus now you guys get to luck out with a halfway timely book review, or something!
The Dinosaur Lords (I love getting to type that title over and over again) has the kind of wonderful plot that you probably thought up while you were playing in the sandbox in 2nd grade. “Wouldn’t it be cool if knights rode dinosaurs?” Only the thing is, Milan did more with the idea than just smashing plastic toys together. I’m pretty sure that dinosaur toys still played a major part in Milan’s writing process, however. I bet he used those really detailed, in-scale ones put out by the Smithsonian that you could only really find in museum gift shops.
The most interesting part of the novel is how Milan runs with what could otherwise be a contrived concept. Through dictionary-style entries before each chapter, Milan drips out little bits and pieces of the setting. Through allusion and reference, we learn that the world of The Dinosaur Lords is not our own- in the far distant past, eight “gods” (I’m presuming them to be of the Sufficiently Advanced Alien type) took a bunch of people and some other modern-day animals (dogs, cats, horses, goats, and ferrets, to be precise) and plonked them down on a Dinosaur Planet named Paradise for reasons that aren’t explained yet.
Amongst the gifts of the gods is a “Book of True Names,” which has a lot of paleontology info in it, and thusly allows Milan to refer to the dinosaurs by their scientific names: Allosaurus, Triceratops, Velociraptor, etc. Of course, the people of Paradise still have their own slang names for dinosaurs as well, so occasionally I’d have to remember that a “halberd” is supposed to be a Lambeosaurus. Either way, it’s a clever little conceit, and a fun piece of worldbuilding to puzzle over. Language also carries through, as well, so characters have vaguely Spanish or French sounding names, as they’re apparently in Dinosaur-Europe.
Unfortunately, I found it kind of hard to figure out just how Dinosaur-Europe was supposed to be laid out. The Dinosaur Lords falls easily into the ‘map fantasy’ genre … but there’s no world map on the inside cover. There’s a map of the Dinosaur-Spanish-Empire’s capital city, but since at least 75 percent of the action takes place outside the city walls (and most of what does happen in the city takes place in the Imperial Palace), this doesn’t do a reader much good. Every so often I got a little bogged down when Milan started going on about who was the heir to such and such house, and so on.
I should’ve expected this, since the blurb right at the top of the cover is from George R.R. Martin himself. Of course, by using such a comparison, a less generous reader could start picking out the characters “borrowed” from Game of Thrones: the spunky tomboy princess, a handsome and bisexual knight-errant, a witty dwarf, a disgraced swordsman with one hand, and so on. Heck, there’s even a ship named Melisandre mentioned in passing. Thankfully, the book doesn’t read like “Westeros with Tyrannosaurs!” fanfic- one could argue Milan’s just pulling from a broader well of fantasy tropes. Besides, the swordsman gets his hand back, and the witty dwarf only shows up for one chapter (and should probably have been cut, preventing readers like me from bringing the issue up, but I digress).
One similarity that Milan does share with Martin is the sex and violence. This is definitely an “adult” book. Milan can write a solid action scene, and there are plenty of them in the book. There’s blood and gore aplenty- in particular, Milan seems to like to write about blood spurting from joints in a knight’s armor. Guess they have pretty high blood pressure on Paradise.
And then there’s the sexy bits. While there’s only one real explicit sex scene in the novel, and a rape towards the end, there’s still a consistently sexual undercurrent to the novel, particularly in the chapters written from the viewpoint of one Princess Melodia. See, Paradise is a warm, tropical world- so a lot of the time Melodia (and her various handmaidens) rarely bother wearing much besides loincloths and dinosaur feathers. Scantily clad fantasy babes are nothing new to the genre, of course, but the prevalence of feather-based clothing makes for a somewhat amusing image.
I guarantee some sheltered nerd kid is going to read this book a rather impressionable age. “It’s dinosaurs!” their parents will say, “it must be great for children!” Then again, with the advent of the internet, is stumbling into sex scenes in a novel still as noteworthy as it once was? I’m not gonna dwell on it further, but those kids should probably get off my lawn.
Ultimately, you’re gonna read a book called The Dinosaur Lords for the damned dinosaurs. The book is at its best when Milan focuses on dinosaur combat. One interesting thing is how Milan has taken a lot of modern paleontological research into account; many of the dinosaurs in paradise have feathers, for example. He also plays with the idea of hadrosaurs crests as resonance chambers, stretching it to the point where duckbilled dinosaurs are able to use their super-low “brown note” roars as a deadly weapon. I couldn’t help but find this a little silly, but I guess Milan had to throw it in ’cause hadrosaurs are kinda lame, compared to the cooler dinosaurs with horns and armor and teeth and stuff.
Anyway, the book chugs along, branching out into three different plotlines. The bishonen-y bisexual knight leads an army against some rebel duke, the one-handed-swordsman and an axe wielding bard/dinosaur trainer are hired to defend a province of pacifists from some evil dukes, and Princess Scantily-Clad gets caught up in various courtly intrigues back in Dinosaur-Spain. Our various heroes are opposed by a moustache-twirling assortment of villains, including a Strawman-Church that thinks that bathing is a sin. Not quite as bad as the bad guy wanting to ban fire in Goodkind’s first Sword of Truth book, but it was still a “really?” kind of moment. It just seems kind of lazy to make the villains smell bad all the time.
Unfortunately, The Dinosaur Lords has an acute case of “first in the series-itis.” It does a lot to set up the characters and put events into motion, but none of the major story lines are really resolved. It’s a pretty common phenomenon in a lot of modern fantasy- and it makes sense, given that a given author will want to milk a publishable idea for as much as they can. I would’ve preferred a more self-contained book, but we’ll see how things go. I’m sufficiently curious to see where the next book goes, at least. My prediction is, the series will move closer to the Pern-ish “we created this world with super advanced science” sort of thing, and move in a more science-fictional direction.
However it goes, I’m hoping Milan will have the next book out in August 2016, just in time for Dinosaur Month 2.