Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Greatly Belated Book Review: Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara

My family and I have been longtime fans of James Gurney's Dinotopia books; when my mother saw Journey to Chandara, the latest book, on sale at a bookstore, she bought it automatically.

The reasons to like the Dinotopia books are simple:
1. I like dinosaurs.
2. James Gurney makes beautiful, detailed, realistic illustrations of dinosaurs doing things dinosaurs didn't really do.

That's all there really is to it. And if you like these things, you'll like this and any other Dinotopia book (that has illustrations by Gurney inside).

I'll be frank, though-the three books aren't internally consistent, and this bugs the heck out of me.

A few examples-in the first book, Dinotopians don't even really know what money is. By the second, it's clear that at least some individuals use something like a form of currency, though they may be on the outskirts of normal society. By the third, money is all but assumed.

In the first book, the appearance of Arthur Denison's submersible was seen as remarkable; in the second, such submersibles were common and had been, possibly for centuries.

In the second book, it was discovered that an earlier Dinotopian civilization used machines called "strutters." However, this was an almost unknown part of history. In the second, it was casually mentioned that there was a war in recorded history that involved strutters.

In the first book, carnosaurs are treated like misanthropes or hermits. In the third, it is suggested they live everywhere.

There's more, but I don't want the review to turn into a lengthy list.

I really shouldn't let this bug me; like I say, this stuff isn't the point. Unfortunately, I seem to be hardwired to flip out over details like that.

Also, the quality of the storytelling has dropped some. In the first book, Lee Crabb was an interesting minor character who represented a dissenting viewpoint to the idea that life on the island was perfect. In the second, he was a melodramatic, crafty, power-hungry villain (though it is possible that he was partly under the influence of a magical rock). In the third, he was a cartoonish pest barely worthy of being a villain in a show aimed at toddlers. When I read the parts of the book involving Crabb, I practically heard a condescending narrator intone "Oh, that silly Crabb!"

Come for the dinosaurs; stay for the beautiful illustrations of things like brachiosaur firefighters. (No joke-there are several pages of this.)

That's all you can really expect of it.

-Signing off.

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