The Dinosaur Lords
By Victor Milan
The Dinosaur Lords is a great example of what you call a high concept novel. High concept basically means an idea that you can easily communicate in a few or even a single sentence. In the case of The Dinosaur Lords, that single sentence is “Knights fighting on dinosaurs.” Which, I'm going to be blunt here guys, is an awesome concept. I mean who doesn't like the idea of riding a multi-ton monster into battle? I've loved dinosaurs since I was kid and by that I mean like a lot of kids I was utterly besotted with them. Having grown up... Despite having acquired many more loves and tastes, I still love the damn things. Dinosaurs are awesome. There's no debating that. I'll gleefully sit down and watch a documentary on dinosaurs, or read a book on them or have a completely over the top debate over whether or not the Tyrannosaurs Rex was a predator or a scavenger (he was a predator obviously, although I'm sure the Tyrant King also stole any kill he could get to). So when I grabbed the novel, I was sure no matter what happened I wouldn't be bored.
The Dinosaur Lords was written by veteran writer Victor Milan, who was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma (my own home state) in 1954. Mr. Milan has literally been writing longer then I've been alive and has written and published over a 100 novels and short stories. He has written Forgotten Realms books, Mech Warrior books, cyberpunk, fantasy, science fiction so on and so forth. His most famous book was perhaps the Cybernetic Samurai, a cyberpunk novel released in 1985. I went ahead and looked into the Cybernetic Samurai which was an award winning book and might be appearing in this review series someday (if nothing else I would like to expose some of my readers, a number of whom are of tender years to the kind of fiction written in the 1980s. Especially the cyberpunk). But! We're not here to talk about Cyberpunk, we're here to talk about what, I at least think, is a fantasy novel.
The Dinosaur Lords takes place on the planet of Paradise, which our good author goes out of his way to tell us is not in any way, shape, or form Earth. On Paradise there are a small number of mammals. Horses, dogs, ferrets, cats and most importantly Humans, the rest of the wildlife is straight from the Mesozoic Era, that's right not just dinosaurs but all the creatures that shared the planet with them from the flying pterodactyls to the great monsters of the deep. Paradise teems with them and they all live here without respect for silly things like if they actually lived together on earth. Stegosaurus roams the land alongside the Tyrannosaur Rex (fun fact kid, there is actually less time separating us from the T-Rex then there is separating the Tyrant King from the Stegosaurus) for example. These facts among other things leads me to think that there is something of the artificial about Paradise (there's a sentence you could parse several ways). That said I got to give Mr. Milan points for depicting at least some of the dinosaurs has having feathers and vibrant colors. Something even Jurassic World skimped on. Another point is given to Mr. Milan for having most Dinosaur knights riding war hadrosaurs, because riding a multi-ton carnivore is dangerous and expensive. That said there are characters who ride Allosaurus and (of course) T-Rexes but it's a privilege reserved for wealthy high nobles who have the land and money to feed and maintain such monsters. Frankly I'm not turning my nose up at the hadrosaur as a war mount either. I mean sure it's a herbivore but so are horses and the average war hadrosaur is over 3 tons! If that wasn't enough Milan exercised his right as a fantasy Arthur to kick it up notch by giving hadrosaurs the ability to attack using special cries that can burst blood vessels and cause intense physical damage as if they were giant monstrous banshees. Now granted I'm pretty sure the real hadrosaurs likely couldn't do that, but I don't care. As long as a story is internally consistent I'm willing to accept some flubbing on the biology and abilities of an extinct species brought back to life specifically so I can ride it into battle and hit other people with sharp bits of metal.
Dinosaur Lords has 3 and a half separate story lines that run through it, 2 and a half of those story lines weave around each other while one stands completely on it's own. In one story line, bard and dinosaur master Rob Korrigan follows fallen lord Karyl Bogomirskiy, once the most feared military leader around but now fallen on hard times, on a job to raise an army to defense a province of pacifists. I'm going to take a moment to say I've always felt that strict pacifism (a refusal to engage in violence even in self defense) makes no damn sense. My life experience has taught me the hard way that there are people who will take nonresistance as an excuse to indulge their worst impulses and refusing to fight doesn't make the world better. It only gives those people free reign to be brutal monsters. That said there are times and places where refusing to engage in violence is the right idea. We've seen that demonstrated in history that people engaged in nonviolent protest and action can do what all the armies in the world can't but a blanket refusal towards violence is frankly madness in my view. Especially when there are armies specifically coming in to murder, rape and enslave people while specifically saying they're doing so because they know you won't fight them. I mean you live in a world where there are nobles who train raptor packs to hunt men for sport, how does nonviolence sound like a good idea here!?! Lucky for Karyl, he's able to find volunteers. Now he's just to figure out how he's going to beat armies full of men who trained their entire lives to kill people and their dinosaurs with small bands of peasants and townsmen who only realized that the pointy end of a spear is dangerous 3 weeks ago. Karyl is an easy character to respect but hard to like, we spend most of his story line inside Rob's head who is easy to like but at times hard to respect. That said Rob is a charming, earthy fellow so it's not like I disliked him as a view point character.
Our second story line follows the Imperial Champion Jaume, who is a pretty amazing guy. He's a knight who founded his own knightly order and the kind of guy who can stand up to a T-Rex without quailing. He's a poet who loves beauty and a honorable man who loves truth. However he's got a problem, see the Emperor of the Empire is pretty much a figure head and always has been (it's a kind of Holy Roman Empire situation they got going on here) but the current Emperor has decided to change that. Part of his solution is to send Jaume off to support the people attacking said province of pacifist. Course that's an issue when Jaume's own religious beliefs are more in line with theirs then with the Emperor's. Jaume agrees to lead the army because that's his duty which I understand it's his behavior on the campaign I don't get! Let me warn everyone that spoilers are following. Jaume's army is also suppose to attack and subdue a number of semi-rebellious nobles who have been playing bandits. His army is made up of his knightly order, imperial troops and a number of feudal levies led by nobles who have fallen into a religious sect which... Well encourages them to treat peasants like shit. When Jaume wins the battle against the rebels (no thanks to the nobles in his army) he arranges a truce and everyone seems happy but when those same nobles use a false flag of parley to break into the castle and town of the rebels and proceed to murder and rape everyone they can and Jaume is woken up in the middle of night with this news... He refuses to do anything, because... He's worried about the effect on the army or the empire. This flabbergasted me so much I went and checked with some medieval historians I knew just to see if I was missing anything. I wasn't. This makes no damn sense! If Jaume doesn't act, then no one will ever bother making a truce or surrender to him ever again because he's either a liar who can't be trusted or a weak man who can't control his troops. This kind of behavior means that frankly Jaume doesn't have an army, he has an armed mob that walks in the same direction he does and that's worse than having no troops at all! I may be spoiled by my experience in a 21st century military but this is not shit that William the Conqueror would have stood for and he lived over 900 years ago!
Next we have Imperial Princess Melodia who utterly frustrates me even more then Jaume. Why? Because her story line is she watches other people and talks about it with her ladies in waiting. She is in the imperial court and I think it's suppose to give me a sense of of the intrigue and plotting going on but Melodia is so removed from all of it I don't really get any good information. So I get a story line that involves talking about other people and watching other people do stuff and her being in a snit with Jaume (who is her lover) because she thinks this war is a bad idea to. She complains, sneers and pouts and frankly I don't really care for her and I'm asking what was the point of having her as a view point character? She doesn't do anything! Her entire story line is... You know what I'll come back to this. Lastly is Count Falk who is mostly interwoven with Princess Melodia, a former rebel who swears loyalty to the Emperor and bullied by his servant and mother plots and schemes to gain control of the Emperor's advisory council... Well he mostly carries out his servant's plots and schemes and then gets drunk and talks about how terrible Melodia is for flirting with him and not fucking him (she doesn't really flirt with him, she dances with him once and tells him she doesn't like him). Falk almost feels like an internet “nice guy” transported into a fantasy novel. Which is reason enough to loathe him (2 tips from my life guys, 1 if you have to tell people you're a nice guy... Then you're not a nice guy. 2 if the only reason you're nice to a girl is so she'll sleep with you? You're not a nice guy and she shouldn't sleep with you. I get the frustration, I do! I've been told no way more then I like as well but for fuck's sake guys get a grip! Okay back to the review) but there's even more reason to hate Falk. He's a bloody whiner! Everything is about how awful everyone is to him and how nothing goes his way and everything sucks... You want to slap him in the mouth and scream “You're in the top 1% of your society and you ride a T-Rex to war! Grow Up! You're embarrassing humanity in front of the dinosaurs!”
There's good stuff in this book, the battles and action are very well done and given to us from different view points so we get to watch from afar and be right in the front lines. There's also a good variety of action from one on one fights on dinosaur back and on foot to mass battles and everything in between. However I never got the same sense with the intrigue or the plotting. I'm left very fuzzy on what the different factions in the imperial court are and what they want. Additionally... This entire book feels like a prologue not a complete story and I HATE that. This is especially true of the whole Melodia story line which could have frankly been saved as chapters in the next book and acted as the beginning to her story line. Jaume's story doesn't come to a conclusion so much as kinda meander to a stop. While Karyl's story line which is the closest thing to a full story ends on a semi-cliff hanger. Look, there's nothing wrong with writing an interconnected series of books telling a single grand story but each book that I paid cash money for should give me a complete story in and of itself. I mean Larry Correia can do it, Kevin Herne does it masterfully in the Iron Druid series, I expect a veteran writer like Milan to do the same. It's not that The Dinosaur Lords is a bad story mind you, it's that it's not a complete story. Still I did like most of the characters and really enjoyed the battles and the world itself is very interesting so it's not like I felt I wasted my money. Still I can't in good faith give The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milian more than a C+. Lack of a satisfying ending in any of the story lines and issues with the characters and the politics is holding down what should be something awesome. Hopefully the sequel can address some of these issues.
Next time: I am going to Phoenix Comic Con! But you're still getting a review! Let's see what I think of Gail Simone writing of the Red Devil of Hyrkania. See you next week!