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.
“It's like a cross between Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones.” That's not me talking. That's Game of Thrones* author George R.R. Martin himself, providing the cover quote for The Dinosaur Lords. And he is not wrong, as this book shares a lot in common with the famous fantasy series. It is a medieval epic focusing largely on the Byzantine politics of its fantasy world. There is court intrigue, a large cast of not-always-likable characters, and plenty of sex and violence. Unfortunately it also shares Game of Thrones' greatest flaw: A lot of build-up with very little payoff. But it's got dinosaurs, so there's that.
The Dinosaur Lords is set on a world called Paradise, in which we are told at the beginning “isn't Earth” and “is no alternate Earth.” This is one of several hints scattered throughout the book that The Dinosaur Lords is science fiction despite its sword-and-sorcery trappings. As for the plot: Dinosaur Lord Karyl Bogomirsky is leading a revolt against the emperor of Paradise's largest kingdom when he is defeated in battle and apparently killed. Karyl's death doesn't last long as he is resurrected by one of the setting's mysterious gods and tasked with defending a new pacifist movement against a crusade that will soon be launched against it. At the same time, a few hundred miles away, the emperor’s daughter Melodía watches as her father slips further into paranoia after a failed assassination plot is uncovered. Then there is her lover, Jaume, who is put in charge of leading the crusade despite his doubts about its morality.
The above description leaves out a lot because The Dinosaur Lords is stuffed with characters and subplots. The problem is not much actually happens in the book's 400-plus pages. The Dinosaur Lords is supposed to be the opening chapter of a trilogy, and as such it is mostly about setting up the chess pieces for later novels. It is a slog to wade through as a result. The book opens with a large battle, but the remainder is dedicated to combat training scenes and a predictable storyline about court politics. It also ends with not one, not two, but three cliffhangers. Like Game of Thrones, there is plenty of violence in The Dinosaur Lords — including a rape scene — but it lacks the character development that keeps readers going back to its more famous inspiration despite the fact that winter, it seems, is forever coming.
As for the dinosaurs, they're fine. They are the most fantastical element found in the fantasy world Milán has created, and he stuffs the novel with a cornucopia of species. The existence of dinosaurs is supposed to be one of the series' central mysteries, but the author provides enough clues that most readers of science fiction will guess the answer by the end of book one. That said, dinosaurs are not really central to the story despite the title. They could have been replaced with dragons or other mythological creatures more common to fantasy settings and you would still have the same book.
I admit I'm not a fan of multivolume science fiction and fantasy epics. I think most authors overestimate their ability to tell grand, sweeping stories and create worlds interesting enough to keep readers coming back. The Dinosaur Lords has done little to change my mind in that regard. Still, I'm not ready to give up on the series yet. The next title - The Dinosaur Knights – is scheduled to hit bookshelves in July 2016. I just hope that now all the pieces are in place, Milán picks up the pace.
* Before you leave any comments, yes, I know the proper title for the book series is A Song of Ice and Fire. But most people are familiar with Game of Thrones so that is the title I used.
- The Dinosaur Lords is the opening novel of a fantasy series titled The Ballad of Karyl's Last Ride. The name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. Anyway, the author has said the series is supposed to be a trilogy, but Wikipedia claims there will be six books, although there is no citation.
- I know dinosaurs and knights have been paired in a few pen-and-paper roleplaying games, but this is the first time they have been brought together in a novel, as far as I can tell. I'm surprised it took this long, although dinosaurs have tangled with samurais.
- I'm not sure how Karyl is pronounced, but I admittedly kept picturing Rick Grimes yelling “Carl!" every time I read it.
- The author's website is victormilan.com