The Dinosaur Lords
by Victor Milán
Cover Artist: Richard Anderson
Review by Drew Bittner
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765332967
Date: 28 July 2015 List Price $26.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /
In The Dinosaur Lords, Victor Milan takes readers to a new world with some very familiar qualities. Nuevaropa, dominated by the Spanol and their Emperor Felipe, has just endured a brief civil war. The war ended abruptly as the famed White River Legion (led by the celebrated Voyvod Karyl Bogomirskiy and loyal to the Empire) is shattered by a cunning stratagem and a betrayal. Count Jaume, the Imperial Champion, nevertheless leads his Companions to victory over the Princes, which include Duke Falk von Hornburg.
Karyl is brought low but redeemed by an improbable intervention. Rob Korrigan, minstrel and dinosaur master, whose cleverness ended in his being fired, seeks out Karyl and leads him to a business opportunity with a sorceress. Karyl is hired to raise an army...from a settlement of pacifists.
Count Jaume returns to his betrothed, Princess Melodia, who chafes at being an imperial who will never be in the line of succession. She wants to do something out in the world, and fate will give her an opportunity to do just that, even as it steals away someone else Jaume valued greatly.
Duke Falk comes to seek the Emperor's forgiveness and ends up becoming something of an advisor, even vying with Jaume for the honor of leading an army against--the very pacifists Karyl seeks to rouse. It seems something of a religious dispute has broken out; the Garden of Beauty and Truth follows the precepts of Paradise's Creators, who valued sensuality, but a heretical cult has gained acceptance and turned some against those values.
Among her coterie of friends, Melodia frets over the danger to Jaume...and comes to realize that her feelings are complicated by her introduction to Falk, who is clearly interested in her.
Karyl and Rob struggle to win even a few converts to their cause, at length devising a desperate plan to protect the Garden from what they know must be coming. But even as they strive, there are greater and more mysterious beings at work, setting pieces in place for a battle of their own. Paradise itself may be the stakes in a game that none of these warriors could even imagine.
Any child who has owned Lego toys has brought together fighting men (of many eras) and dinosaurs. It's irresistible. If that is all that Victor Milan had achieved here, it would be a worthy book. But he has gone far beyond that. He has created an intricate book that rewards close reading, its dinosaur-powered society is deeply complex and wondrous, with religion, politics and even magic shaping the lives of the characters in ways they do not expect.
Both Karyl and Jaume are superlative fighters who nevertheless do not enjoy killing. One is a mercenary who regained his noble title and lands, the other a warrior-poet utterly devoted to beauty, but they are quite similar in that one way: death is not the first answer to a problem. Karyl relies on his wits to solve his problems, aided ably by the garrulous and ingenious Korrigan, while Jaume tends to rely on his skill and ability to read people. They are a wonderful contrast in protagonists and do not clash quite as readers might expect.
Melodia wants more than she can have, in her society, living with golden chains upon her freedom. Set to marry Jaume, she wants to become a Companion and go fight in strange lands, earning fame and fortune rather than being a bauble to be won and displayed. Amid vividly drawn friends (also princesses and noblewomen), she is a remarkably progressive and striking figure.
The cast is large and individuals could easily be called out at length, but suffice it to say that Milan draws his characters with the perfect amount of personal business, differentiating a roomful of women largely through dialogue, and creates settings that echo the High Middle Ages beautifully...albeit with the addition of dinosaurs.
And what dinosaurs! Milan does not stint at bringing these thunder lizards into play, with some as a natural hazard (much like bears or wildcats) and others as domesticated for food or battle. Karyl's own Legion relies upon a core of triceratops and he rides an allosaur himself, while Falk rides upon an albino tyrannosaurus. The spectacle conjured by these creatures is astounding. It is a dinosaur epic with medieval knights.
Although the story reaches a satisfying conclusion, it is clear that there is more to tell. And I cannot wait.