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Consumed With Hate: The Dinosaur Lords

🦖 Open the Door, Get on the Floor...

The Crime: The Dinosaur Lords
The Guilty Party: Victor Milán
Overview: A waste of a good premise that absolutely does not earn its epic jacket-quote.

Why I Hate It...

It's hard to explain just how excited I was for this book based on the cover alone. I mean... just look at it. That is a knight riding a freaking allosaurus. Look at the art style of that image, that somehow takes a knight riding a freaking allosaurus and makes it look even more bad-ass. Hell, the premise alone is worth the price of admission. A medieval epic with dinosaurs in it. How did no one think of this before? This could be its own sub-genre. So from the moment I was aware of this book's existence right up until its release, I was hyped for it. Which, of course, means there was no way it could live up to expectations, right?

But this book goes beyond disappointment. This book offends me as a writer.

It starts well enough with an epic dinosaur battle sequence--a chapter wryly titled "The Last Battle"--that is attention-grabby and feels like how a battle with dinosaurs might plausibly play out. And from then... it just meanders around for three hundred pages. There are two distinct plot threads that don't seem to go anywhere. One is a palace intrigue story that follows a princess and features very little intrigue but does culminate in a moderately brutal rape. The other is about a couple of hedge knights trying to help some village deal with bandits. There's a joust in the middle but apart from that there are very few dinosaurs aside from the odd pet or beast of burden. None of the characters are even remotely interesting. All of this is to say that someone took a story that opens with an epic dinosaur fight and has dinosaur jousting at the mid-point, and managed to make it dull as hell anyway.

And then there's the point-of-view issue, about which I'm going to get a little technical on the story-craft front. The convention in modern speculative fiction is to write stories in a third-person limited POV. That is, the narrative is centered around a single character and their internal dialogue to the exclusion of all else. We're using he/she/they pronouns, but we're seeing the story through their eyes and from within their head. When we want to get inside another character's head, you introduce a scene break. Scene breaks are just that--a break in the narrative--and employing one forces the reader to re-orient themselves in the story. This isn't a huge expenditure of mental energy, but it is a non-zero cost so you want to use them thoughtfully. They need to feel motivated. They need to work with the flow and pacing of the chapter. You have to make decisions around which character should be the narrator for a particular scene and arrange story elements to make sure the right people are in the right places at the right time with the right information. And the more complex your story, the more important this is.

In The Dinosaur Lords, we get scene breaks constantly. Milán does not put forth any of that effort, and the result is exhausting. It's like trying to read a tennis match. It jumps around POVs, sometimes between different characters in the same scene, and sometimes these cuts come every couple of paragraphs. By the end of it, I was so put off by the proliferation of unnecessary scene breaks that I stopped using them in my own long-form writing. I do not put scene breaks within a chapter. Ever. I only use them in short stories because there's no such thing as a chapter break in a short story. Let me re-state this for the people in the cheap seats: the writing in The Dinosaur Lords bothered me so much that I have permanently altered my own style in order to be less like it!

And that, dear reader, is not the thing that offends me the most about this book in my capacity as a wordsmith. No, for that, we need to go back to the cover. But first a little preamble. Prior to his death from cancer in 2017 (which--regardless of how I feel about his writing--is quite sad), Milán lived in Albuquerque and was in a local writing group with other New Mexico writers, one of whom was a man by the name of George R. R. Martin. Martin was a former television writer and producer for The Beatles [editor's note: fact-check this?] turned novelist who was blowing up as a household name due to the pop-cultural juggernaut that had formed around HBO's adaptation of his Song of Ice and Fire books. According to legend, while they were doing their critiques, Martin made the off-hand comment about Milán's book premise that it was "like a cross between Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones." Reader, you cannot buy a pull-quote that good from a source that authoritative. Milán cajoled Martin into letting him use that as a jacket blurb.

I'm convinced that this is the only reason this sub-mediocrity of a novel got published. It not only got published, it netted Milán a six-book deal with the full hype machine of Tor Books behind it. This book did not deserve it. Because the book is bad. It squanders an amazing premise with boring characters, dumb tropes, and shoddy craftsmanship, and Milán still made a boatload off of it anyway because he happened to know the Beatles guy [editor's note: srsly, I don't think this is right]. And that is what offends me about this book.

Next week, we ponder Sean Connery's mankini in Zardoz...

In CONSUMED WITH HATE, Kurt is revisiting media that he absolutely did not like one bit. See more posts.