Series: The Dinosaur Lords #1
Publisher: Tor Books (July 28, 2015)
Length: 448 pages
My Rating: 3.5 stars
When The Dinosaur Lords was first announced back in 2015, the hype was palpable across the fantasy genre. The concept, the book cover, and that endorsement from George R.R. Martin created expectations which rose into the stratosphere; every fantasy reader seeming to be dying to get their hands on this cross between Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones.
Then the novel was released.
Reviews were mixed. Some loved it. Some hated it. Most naysayers felt Victor Milán’s epic was too slow, too devoid of world building, too lacking in dinosaurs! Even those who enjoyed this opening salvo in the series had some issues with the pacing and character development, among other things. And the majority of readers seemed to fall right in the middle of the two extremes, enjoying parts of the story but not falling in love with it.
As for me, I sat back when the novel was published and absorbed as many reviews as I could. Naturally, the views of my favorite bloggers were most closely examined, but I also tried to understand everyone’s love or angst with the finished product. And as I did this my expectations for the book changed, which was a stroke of good luck for me. You see, that meant when I finally fit The Dinosaur Lords into my reading schedule, my expectations were close to normal; the hype for fantasy dinosaurs having cooled down somewhat; and I was able to appreciate this book for what it is: a solid — if not spectacular — introduction to an epic fantasy series which happens to incorporate dinosaurs into its narrative.
Opening with a flash, The Dinosaur Lords drops readers down into a huge battle between the Empire of Neuvaropa and rebellious nobles. Here Count Jaume Llobregat, a young, dashing, warrior-poet fights for his Emperor along side his dinosaur knight brothers, as they prepare to find beauty in the horrors of war. But even though his ideals are the most pure, Jaume finds loyalty to his betters calling upon him to do something very unchivalrous; his orders to aid the rebel Duke Falk von Hornberg in killing famed mercenary captain Karyl Bogomirskiy and destroying his legendary Triceratops corps. This vile deed of betrayal weighing heavily on Jaume’s soul.
Back at the residence of the Emperor (not in the capital, because His Highness doesn’t like that drafty place at all), the imperial princess Melodía anxiously awaits her lover Jaume. With the battle with the northern nobles won, she longs for him to finally return to court, not only for the comfort of his presence and the release of her pent up sexual frustrations, but also because she is slowly becoming aware that political machinations are brewing around her, especially since her father seems easily influenced by whomever bends his ear last. The princess hopeful that Jaume’s calming presence might end the constant waxing of Duke Falk von Hornberg’s power as well as stifle the growing talk of a crusade against the Garden of Truth and Beauty in far off Providence.
Meanwhile, across the kingdom, the commoner named Rob Korrigan (who found himself playing an unexpected but significant role in Jaume’s betrayal of Karyl Bogomirskiy) finds himself hired to track down Karyl, who seems not to be quite as dead as everyone thought. Rob’s task to convince the mercenary captain to travel to Providence, where they are to aid the Garden of Truth and Beauty in raising and training a fighting force to defend their lands from neighboring nobles bent of their total destruction. Sounds simple, but Rob isn’t sure if this stranger is really the legendary Karyl, and even if he is, he must somehow talk him into taking up a lost cause.
But there is far more transpiring on the world of Paradise than just these petty royal rivalries or isolated conflicts. Brief interludes in the narrative revealing that the Creators’ mysterious Grey Angels are watching the world very closely. These supernatural being taking an interest in the outcome of everything for some obscure reason, waiting for the right time, the right moment, to reappear and deal out judgement and retribution upon the masses!
For me, The Dinosaur Lords was a fine introduction to Victor Milán’s world and its denizens. It wasn’t perfect, didn’t reinvent the fantasy genre, and had its share of issues, but overall, it was an enjoyable read albeit a slow one at times.
Definitely, my favorite part of any story (including this one) is getting to know the characters I’ll be following along behind. Certainly, I will like some more than others, but whatever there role is to be (hero, villain, bystander) I expect to be show their public and private faces, understand them enough to want to learn more about them. And here I thought Victor Milán did a nice job showcasing each of his cast of colorful characters. From mysterious Karyl to spoiled Melodía, from noble Jaume to complex Falk, from dino lover Rob to perplexing Emperor Felipe, I met and grew to like or dislike each one of them in turn, allowing me to begin to take sides in the story as it unfolded, and while there was some truth to criticism that several seemed a bit overpowered, I chose to overlook that issue, trusting that Mr. Milán would correct that problem as the story evolved.
World building was the other area I really enjoyed here. I personally found myself drawn into this eerily similar yet distinctly different 14th Century European culture. The dynastic rivalries, political feuds, religious conflict, and overt Spanish cultural touches were a welcome change of pace from the more common British influenced fantasy I tend to see littering the bookshelves. Certainly, Victor Milán could have devoted even more time to developing the culture of this place, revealed more of its confusing past (I mean, does anyone know if this is another world or another dimension at this point?), and filled in some of the grey areas about the current state of the Empire, but even though he did not do those things, I still felt the 14th Century Spanish environment was fertile fantasy ground, which he put to good use overall.
But what about the dinosaurs? I hear some of you shouting out there.
Well, they are all here. A plethora of dinosaurs fully integrated into the narrative, as they co-exist side-by-side with humans on this world called Paradise. Naturally, there are many different kinds of dinos: domesticated breeds, who walk around as beasts of burden; wild dinos, who roam the countryside as ravaging beasts; even war dinosaur, who are raised to be mounts for the feared dinosaur knights of this world. And, these later dinosaurs are really the stars of the show, for whenever they appear the spotlight is firmly on them; their fearsome nature, terrifying power, and overwhelming magnetism drawing the reading eye, turning every battle scene in The Dinosaur Lords into a must read. Victor Milán’s writing ability shining its brightest when he describes these fearsome behemoths of war thundering across a field of battle, leaving all in their wake. The only negative to this full integration of dinos into human society that, outside of the battles, these beasts fade into the background, as you forget they are there, because they are another part of daily life among these people, so while the author never fails to integrate them into the ongoing narrative, they are not anything for the characters to get excited about, just like people these days think nothing of handheld computers, drones, or any number of technological marvels that once would have caused quite an uproar in people.
The main criticism I have of this novel is the pacing of the story. It is a slow moving affair for the most part. Once the battle at the beginning ends, the narrative proceeds at a snail’s pace. We have long speeches by characters we do not really know yet. Conversations are drawn out a bit too far with too much internal monologue included. Plots take forever to form. Mysteries are hinted at over and over again. Revelations about characters and events are slow in developing (if they ever come at all). And the climaxes do not quite live up to the buildup. These missteps resulting in The Dinosaur Lords being a book which steadily moves forward but seemingly never goes anywhere.
The other issue I had was the vulgarity and sex scenes. Cursing doesn’t offend me. (Unfortunately, I do it far too often in real life.) I have had sex before, so I’m fairly familiar with how it works. (Unfortunately, I don’t do that nearly as much as I’d like.) These two things do bother me when all the cursing and sex do not seem to have much to do with the story that I am reading, however. And there were moments in The Dinosaur Lords where I wondered if Victor Milán really needed to add that curse word or that sexual reference for the tale to progress forward. My answer far too many times was no, which meant the only reason it was there was for shock effect. I hate shock effect in writing. I just do. So this was a major problem for me personally.
The net outcome of all these positives and negatives is that I really enjoyed The Dinosaur Lords. It had some issues here and there, which did slow down the fun, but I can’t resist dinosaurs in an epic fantasy. I mean, Victor Milán has caught lightning in a bottle with this idea. Whether he can make it live up to its tremendous potential hasn’t been determined yet, but he did enough in this book to send me back to the bookshelf to immediately read book two in the series. And, for me, that is saying a lot.
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.