I’ve always had a fascination with dinosaurs, ever since I was a child, so it stands to reason that a fantasy epic set in a world where dinosaurs exist would catch my eye. Browsing through the aisles of a Barnes & Noble (pre-pandemic), I saw a book cover depicting an armored knight holding a lance aloft while riding a reined raptor, and it caught my attention like a magnet attracts metal.
And to make the book seem even more appealing to me, a blurb made the bold statement that it was like a cross between Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones. My curiosity thoroughly piqued, I snatched the book up, paid for it, and took it home.
The Dinosaur Lords builds a world that is ripe with dinosaurs, and it is a truly fascinating place. It makes you, as a reader, want to spend more time learning about the ways in which people exist in this particular dino-riddled universe. However, choppy writing and unclear character motivation stops the book from fully endearing itself to you.
Caution. There be spoilers ahead!
The story follows several characters navigating the politics and wars of a land called Paradise, particularly focusing on the Empire of Nuevaropa. There is Voyvod Karyl, the disgraced fighter who is called upon to enter the fray once more. Rob Korrigan, a brash bard, accompanies Karyl as he attempts to organize a resistance among peasants against warmongering lords.
Following the more political side of things is the Princess Melodia and Jaume, two lovers who must deal with the trials of perhaps being on the wrong side of a war while also staying true to their ideals.
I’ve just given you my basic understanding of these characters, and, unfortunately, I’m still not entirely clear where their paths may take them or even if I pegged them right in these brief descriptions.
There is a lack of characterization throughout the novel, that makes motivations incredibly unclear. As such, character details that might make me like one character more than another are…well, missing. I formed absolutely no connection with these characters because I couldn’t really understand what they were fighting for.
Let’s take Karyl, for example. He becomes “disgraced” after losing a battle, but since he was betrayed by people from his own side, I was never entirely on board with the whole “he’s a disgraced commander.” If anything, his downfall was completely out of his hands. He returns to his natural role as a military leader after being approached by a deity of some sort and acceding to her requests. And it honestly seems like he did so because he had nothing better to do. It’s almost as if we as readers spend no time in Karyl’s head whatsoever.
Rob, Karyl’s bardic companion, is an easier nut to crack. He’s looking for a good story, and he’s always admired Karyl as a dino handler and strategist. It makes sense why he would follow Karyl in his endeavors. But Rob’s one of the exceptions when it comes to learning about motivations. As I was reading, I kept expecting to finally come to an understanding about why a character does the things they do, but each time I felt like I was coming closer to some sort of answer, the revelation just wouldn’t happen. It was like turning a corner expecting to find a door and finding nothing there.
One reason this happens is because the author skimps on details even when he is being forthright about personalities. Victor Milan’s writing style is to-the-point, a true exercise in brevity. And if the novel had been based in real-life, I would have had no problem with this. But The Dinosaur Lords is set in a fantastical world with its own religions, forms of government, and species of animals. To be frugal with details in a fantasy land leaves readers grasping at straws.
Try imagining the world of The Lord of the Rings if J.R.R. Tolkien decided he didn’t really care about informing readers concerning Hobbits.
And this writing style also causes characterization to suffer, as I’ve said before. For instance, Princess Melodia’s father is briefly described. He is kind and doting toward his daughters, but he has a vague sense of clarity when it comes to retaining his throne. And, hand to heart, that’s all I really learned about him. So when a scheming knight tells Melodia’s father that she has betrayed him (a scene we don’t even read about directly), and she is pushed into a prison and left to the mercy of this devious knight, there is a massive part of you that wonders in bewilderment why her father, the freakin’ Emperor of Nuevaropa, would allow this to happen.
So not only are reader connections to characters missing (meaning how well we can relate to one of them), reader comprehension of character actions is gone too!
The one aspect in which The Dinosaur Lords shines is in its premise. The very potential of a world in which dinosaurs are used as mounts, as hounds on a hunt, or as a veritable tank in battle, kept me reading to the very last page. I wanted to see the dinosaurs in action more than I wanted characters speaking to each other.
The setting of The Dinosaur Lords is also enhanced by the strange religion they have going on. Quotes from their version of a “Bible” introduce every chapter, and it’s interesting to note how they perceive the world and the dinosaurs in it.
This curious and unique environment is the novel’s only major draw.
After some quick research, I discovered there is a sequel to The Dinosaur Lords. However, before I even attempt to purchase and read it, I seriously want to give the first book another go. This is not because I enjoyed it so much that I want to read it again. I want to reread The Dinosaur Lords to see if I can understand characters better a second time around.
I rate The Dinosaur Lords an epic-premise-that-covers-an-intriguing-but-fairly-unsatisfying-narrative-that-will-leave-you-more-puzzled-than-a-paleontologist-who-has-gotten-requested-to-endorse-a-theme-park.