In the Author’s Note that begins The Dinosaur Lords, Victor Milán cautions his readers: “This world […] isn’t Earth. It wasn’t Earth. It won’t ever be Earth.” Then he adds, “All else is possible…”
He should just come out and say it: this is our world under different circumstances. Paradise – the world in which The Dinosaur Lords takes place – may not be “our” world, but it certainly feels like Earth run through a fertile imagination. So much of this world echoes ours, with knights and armor (even jousting), patriarchies and political struggles, castles and pubs, societal hierarchies, male and female archetypes. Even the names of the geography (Vieux Charlot, Neuvaropa, Anglaterra, Aphrodite Terra), names and titles (Infanta Montserrat, Prince Harry, Don Rodrigo), cultures and language (Slavo, Spañol, Rus, Anglés, Irlandés) evoke our own conventions. The familiar outweighs the unique (fashions, religion) with one big exception.
Dinosaurs. So much can be forgiven when there are dinosaurs to be had.
Still, with recognizable names such as tyrannosaurus rex, triceratops, allosaurus, parasaurolophus, ankylosaurus, etc., etc., it’s hard to lessen the grip of the familiar. Had Mr. Milán simply acknowledged that this world, this Paradise, as an alternate world to ours, the novel would have fared better. No need to coyly say, “All else is possible….”
Still, much has to be handed to the author’s fertile imagination. The use of dinosaurs, both wild and domesticated, is magnificent. The sparse way they are used as war mounts and as living artillery or as wily and wild game, but not (obviously) as cattle or pets or casual environment, makes them wonderfully vital in this world. The continuity of their uses and attributes (and the author’s descriptions of each species) is both astute and clever. The application of dinosaurs into Paradise definitely enhances Mr. Milán fanciful tale.
There are many different plot threads weaving throughout The Dinosaur Lords: dinosaur master for-hire Rob Korrigan, accompanied by his trusty einiosaurus, Little Nell, finds himself out of work and itinerant after his former employers prevail on the battlefield; unexpectedly, he finds himself teamed up with a scruffy drifter who turns out to be legendary Voyvod Karl Bogomirskiy, who had supposedly been hunted down and killed after his famous White River Legion was routed and his beloved allosaurus mount Shiraa fled. Commander of the victorious troops, Count Jaume, handsome Captain-General of Order of the Companions of Our Lady of the Mirror and heralded nephew of the Emperor, rides home in victory upon his own war-hadrosaur mount, Camellia, but the taste is sour in his mouth for he knows that the kingdom is decaying from within. In the Firefly Palace, beautiful Imperial Princess Melodía Estrella Delgao Llobregat waits for her lover and unofficial betrothed Count Jaume to return, frustrated with her father’s peevishness and her own weak position at court. A new player in the game, the former rebel Duke Falk von Hornberg, has stabled his fearsome war-tyrannosaur Snowflake and now kneels in obeisance at the feet of the Emperor, but no one knows what really lies behind his sharp, dark eyes. Meanwhile, everyone trembles as rumors of a feared clan of silent assassins, dormant for hundreds of years, are once again on the move for reasons and purposes unknown.
Intrigue! Valor! Treachery! Lust! Scheming! Oh, and yeah – Dinosaurs! This novel has them all, in spades!
The book opens with a battle, and spends the first few chapters (not pages, chapters) smack dab in the middle of that battle, which is extremely well done in conjuring up the sounds, sights, smells and drama of the unfolding action. This also immediately shows the reader the importance of dinosaurs in the feudal landscape, as the different species bring different components into the fray, allowing for unique and fascinating strategies to be employed. It’s exciting, it’s imaginative, and it’s a sensory feast.
Unfortunately, it’s also confusing. There are so many moving pieces, so many new names, of commanders, of units, legions, landmarks, loyalties and yes, dinosaurs. While chaos is admittedly a part of battle, being thrown into the intricate battle on virtually page one makes it extremely difficult to tell who is fighting whom, and why, and to what outcome. It doesn’t help that we are seeing the unfolding conflict through the eyes of Rob, who, as a hired contractor from a distant land, has no real sense of loyalty except to his lizardly charges who themselves are just equipment to be used in the minds of the battling forces. Nor does he really care about the battle’s eventual outcome, other than being able to write a rousing ballad from what is transpiring so as to fetch a few coins at the local tavern once the fighting is over.
Shortly thereafter, when we are introduced to the Imperial Princess, the confusion continues. The reader is inundated with so many names and characters (cousins and attendants, with familiar and pet names used, along with formal names) without any real explication of who the main players are. It isn’t clear for pages which is the narrating character for this part of the tale – the princess herself? A cousin? One of her attendants? Once again, it was hard for the reader to gain purchase in the soft footing of the story.
In fact, the affectation for using multiple ways of addressing a single character, with dual names and titles, sometimes in multiple languages, was frustratingly common throughout the narrative. For example, it took me some time to realize that Conde Montañazul, Count Bluemountain and Don Roberto were all the same person. It took even longer for me to realize his place in the court, because I had been assuming that he was more than one person. Even once I realized that the court had a Spanish flair to it, there still were too many nods to French, English, even German idioms and inflections to allow me to feel like I could fall back on a Spanish interpretation to add ballast to the tale (and there was that Author’s admonition at the start of the book…)
Eventually, loyalties, motivations, personalities and characteristics do fall into place and allow the reader to stand on firmer literary ground. Once we have our bearings, the story deepens and the perspective lacking at the start is gained. At this point, the story blossoms.
Unfortunately, there is another huge issue that mars the rest of the book: even at the end, nothing is resolved. There are huge power plays that occur, many dramas that unfold, decisive events that occur, but in each and every plot line established, the action ends in a steep cliffhanger. This wouldn’t have been nearly as frustrating had there been even a shred of evidence – on the dust jacket, in the inside cover synopsis, in the publicity blurbs, in the author’s bio, somewhere – suggesting The Dinosaur Lords is the first book in a series, or that anything is in the works to follow. But there was not one single hint anywhere on or in the book itself. After some research, I did find that The Dinosaur Lords is the first of six planned works in this world, but a reader should never have to search for such information. As it were, I felt somewhat cheated; four hundred-plus pages is a lot to go through before learning that the book is really one long bout of exposition. Very fun and entertaining exposition, but exposition nonetheless.
That being said, with the realization that 1) extreme care needs to be made to understand all the milling relationships at the start of the book, 2) this is only the first book in a series, and 3) it takes place in an alternate version of our world, then The Dinosaur Lords is a wonderful literary experience. The ultimate story line is strong, the descriptions are vivid, the world is cohesive and colorful. Too bad it takes so dang long to get to where you can see all that.
While I enjoyed The Dinosaur Lords, eventually, I’m not so sure I’ll be chomping at the bit to read the next book in the series, The Dinosaur Knights, which is apparently slated to be released in July 2016. Time will tell.
~ Sharon Browning