Dinosaurs have long captivated the human imagination. Since what little we know of them comes from reconstructed histories removed from any human experience by vast epochs, their place in fiction and culture seems assured. It seems only natural, then, that speculative fiction would construct alternate worlds and times where dinosaurs and humans interact and coexist. The Dinosaur Knights, Victor MilŠnís sequel to his previous novel,
The Dinosaur Lords, is such a work. MilŠnís dinosaurs, though, tend to be dwarfed--perhaps even fossilized--by the intricate politics of the fantastical society he creates.
Early on in The Dinosaur Knights, it becomes obvious to new readers that it is a sequel, as Milan starts the narrative
by referencing past events. To his credit, he quickly gets his readers up to speed using exposition that is helpful but that also lasts too long. This is partly evidenced while main characters recount previous events that have led to charges against them in a very drawn-out courtroom scene that comprises several early chapters. Fortunately, there are just enough elements of intrigue and betrayal in these extended scenes to enhance the suspense and progress the narrative.
There are plenty of the usual fantasy tropes that make one begin to question what, if anything, makes this particular series stand out from the rest. Dragons are not that much of an imagined evolutionary advancement from dinosaurs, and fantasy worlds where humans and dragons occupy the same sphere have been done by countless authors. Along with that, there are some intricate fantasy-style names and several different characters, which can sometimes make parts of the plot difficult to follow. This problem is hardly unique to MilŠn, though, and is instead a difficulty of the genre.
For the most part, he seems to address these issues better than others by pairing some more straightforward names and ideas to accompany the more convoluted ones.
This mixing seems to be a stylistic trait of his writing, which blends typical fantasy jargon with everyday common language to assist readability while sometimes disrupting the flow of the storyís imaginary setting. Elaborate language juxtaposed against outright clichťd phrases puts the story off balance: almost as if the book is uncertain of its audience, or is trying to appeal to a broader readership than really would be possible in a novel so clearly situated within the fantasy genre and appealing to a very niche audience. While he definitely tends more toward dialogue than description, especially in the earlier portions of the novel, MilŠnís descriptive power is fully on display in the novelís latter, and better, half.
What is most disappointing about this book is the secondary role the dinosaurs themselves seem to play. Far too often, they seem subordinate to the dramas and politics of knights and ladies, royalty and peasants, human loves and battles, which comprise the bulk of the novel. The drawings of different dinosaurs above the chapter headings seem to serve as a reminder--donít forget, this world also has dinosaurs!--and they disrupt the renderings of dinosaurs that are present. When the dinosaurs make their appearances, the novel hits upon some moments of magical wonder found in their brief descriptions--or, in the case of certain monstrous carnivores, moments of a truly terrifying imaginary. These moments often come in the battle scenes that provide a nice counterbalance to the sometimes too-complex political and social structures that just do not seem as interesting.
Despite the book seeming to lack a clear direction in terms of scope, and despite its pacing being lopsided, MilŠnís concept is certainly interesting, and the world he creates is richly detailed and imagined. The second part of the book definitely makes up for the slow beginnings, but it is likely that only diehard fantasy readers will make it that far. The fact that this is the second novel, though, most likely means the series will not be going extinct anytime soon, and there is entertainment enough to keep it from being permanently shelved.