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 planteaters like Brachiosaurus; terrifying meateaters 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 batsized 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…and the weapons of choice are dinosaurs. Where we have vast armies of dinosaur-mounted knights engaged in battle. And 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.
Star Rating: ** 2/5
DNF: 350 pages read. This review is not gentle.
Guys, I tried.
I really wanted to like this book. I would have forgiven so much–overlooked so much–just because the premise amused me so. Knights. On. Dinosaurs. Dinosaur battles. The cover quote describes it as “a cross between Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones.” How could it go wrong?
Well I’m going to tell you.
Imagine a typical European-based high fantasy setting. Medieval weaponry, feudal power structure, warring Kings, knights. Now add DINOSAURS. Awesome idea!
The one thing I’m really happy about with this book is that Milan goes all into its main selling point: the dinosaurs. Page 10 starts the first dinosaur battle of the book and IT DELIVERS. Milan does a pretty good job integrating dinosaurs into an otherwise-traditional Eurocentric High Fantasy setting.
The entire first battle is excellent. There’s several different types of dinosaurs (triceratops, hadrosaurs, allosaurus, T. Rex, just to name a few) in the battle, and each is deployed as per its unique strengths. The battle is well written and feels immediate, and there’s some great war strategy involved that I really enjoyed. All two stars I gave this book are for the excellent inclusion of dinosaurs in a high fantasy setting. The dinosaurs feel integral, fundamentally a part of the land and culture.
Unfortunately, between the end of the first dinosaur battle and page 350 there are exactly 0 other dinosaur battles. The dinosaurs do show up throughout the book, but the focus is definitely not on them as the book proceeds past the first (and so far, only) major battle.
Ah characters, the most crucial element to any reader’s appreciation of a book.
There are three major PoV characters: Melodia, Jaume, and Rob. Basically by page 350 I was rooting for assassins to murder all of them.
Melodia is a classic Mary Sue. She’s a Princess of Spaña, beautiful and desired by everyone, idolizes her lover Jaume, and basically just spends all her time thinking about getting laid and ignoring gossip. (She’s not like the other girls! Who are smart and PAY ATTENTION TO COURT POLITICS.). Melodia reportedly has deeply studied warfare but is basically patted on the head by Jaume on all occasions where she tries to have an opinion. By page 350 I would be hard pressed to name a single skill Melodia displays. She’s just an ORNAMENT. Dear authors: THIS. IS. NOT. HOW. YOU. WRITE. WOMEN. Especially if you only have ONE important female character.
Jaume the [string of explicatives] warrior is impossibly handsome, never defeated in battle, endlessly patient, wonderfully righteous, and probably takes care of baby animals in his spare time. You know how in high school movies, if the scriptwriters want you to instantly feel sympathy for a character, they show another character drop all their books and the Character of Goodness stops and helps them pick them up? Just imagine incidents like this occurring every Jaume chapter. The author clearly really wants us to like him. In one notable scene he has a rapist & murderer hanged and is forced to defend his actions against the Other Corrupt Nobles, thus obviously showing the Reader how morally superior he is. Clearly we should all feel a deep gratefulness to him for this rather basic action on part of a medieval law enforcer. I particularly despise it when authors use this little trick–the rape & murder of other characters are just vehicles for us to see how GOOD Jaume is! He’s like Jaime from GoT, if you remove literally every shade of moral greyness that makes him interesting. If it isn’t obvious I am really on the side of this dude’s eventual murderer.
Compared to the Impossibly Perfect Duo, my dislike of Rob and Karyl is rather tame. Karyl is merely irritating, one of those “I’m not gonna say anything because mysterious > sensible communication” types, who we are supposed to accept is a Brilliant Tactician and Commander just because we’re told. Rob started out interesting–he is shown to be intelligent–but eventually just degrades into a whiny dude who’s just perpetually fed up with Karyl.
I’m Not Done Ranting About Spaña
You know that thing where a fantasy culture is supposed to be so original and radical and boundary-smashing but then you read it and it’s literally just young beautiful women wearing no clothes and constantly thinking about sex?
OK, so you’ve got a culture that’s cool with wearing very little clothing. That’s fine! There’s many in our real world like that! But if people are USED to seeing more skin, people also don’t tend to sexualize that skin. We don’t think there’s anything particularly amazing about ankles, but the Victorians would probably disagree. Hint hint, book.
What’s screwed up is when it’s only the young women who wear almost nothing. The older women, the men are considerably more clothed. Also, the hypersexualization of the women really sat ill with me. When you describe women’s bodies in lingering detail but don’t pay the same attention to the men, you’ve got a problem.
I love political intrigue in fantasy books! Usually.
I really did not care at all about any of the political manoeuvring in this novel at all. Could not give a shit. The author gives no reason for me to care about the politics of any nation. One of the major PoV characters, Melodia, herself frequently states she doesn’t care at all for court politics, and she’s a princess! Why should I?
The political manoeuvring is not really shown, it is told. Oh god the info-dumps in this novel. So many. The most notable one was immediately after the much-delayed sex scene, which I found completely ludicrous. So much name-dropping, “As you know, Bob”-style explanations, the main characters describing the map of the land to each other, reminding each other who hates whom, of old rebellions … I honestly can’t remember most of it because I skimmed the vast majority.
It didn’t feel masterful or well-executed. When I read good political intrigue, I usually get the sense of a powerful intelligence observing and moving chess pieces behind the curtain. There was none of that here. Nothing particularly shocking happened either, as in the style of GoT reactionary style of politics. It was just … I know the author did a lot of planning and worldbuilding and wanted to show the reader, but I just wasn’t given a reason to care.
The vast majority of the plot revolves around the politics of Spaña, Melodia’s love life, and Rob’s irritation with Karyl. I think. The book may be called the Dinosaur Lords, but the main focus is on human politics. I was really hoping the dinosaurs would play a bigger part of this novel. As it is, it feels like the author tried to do a GoT-style politics-based plot but it didn’t really work. I was hoping for more campy dinosaur battles, but it feels almost like the first dinosaur battle is bait to get you to read the following 300 pages of pretty standard human drama.
Given the fact that I didn’t care about the politics, the plot was pretty boring.
I thought the writing style was pretty okay, for the most part. Not amazing, but not terrible. What killed me was the info-dumps. So many. So ill-concealed. I already ranted about this, so I won’t repeat myself. It was pretty bad.
Also the dialogue. It was mostly okay, but then you get hit with gems like:
“He doesn’t lust after my cinnamon-skinned young body, at least so far as I know.”
I’m just going to let that stand alone.
I’m not really sure if this book contains PoC or not, which is a bad sign. My confusion is mainly due to that “cinnamon-skinned” quote, which appears around pg 325. The cultures are essentially European. Which didn’t surprise me, as the map is essentially Europe with slightly modified names. Still, even Europe didn’t exist in an only-white people vacuum. But most Eurocentric fantasy does!
I was really not happy when one major character loses a hand, but conveniently gets it back via a Sorceress who has something to prove. Yet another example of how the fantasy genre is really not awesome with handling disability.
One good point is the casual inclusion of bisexual, lesbian, and gay characters in the book, specifically in Spaña. Jaume is bisexual and polyamorous. This isn’t shown to be a big deal or something that required special explanation. He just simply IS. There also doesn’t appear to be any religious or cultural homophobia affecting society in this book.
I wasn’t expecting great literature, but I was expecting more than this. This novel falls in the depressingly large bin of books with amazing premises which suck at writing women. Among other issues. The nail in the coffin was definitely the way Melodia was handled.
It started off so great! But when Karyl takes a fall of a cliff, so does the quality of the book. I won’t be finishing this, and unless I see evidence that this author has learned to write much better female characters I won’t be picking anything up by him either.