Review: The Lost Castle (The Chronicles of Krangor)

I love a good fantasy book, and I love dinosaurs. So what’s not to love when you mix them together? 

That’s why I picked up The Lost Castle the first in a series called The Chronicles of Krangor written by Michael Pryor, which is a fantasy novel where all the characters are dinosaurs of one sort or another (bet you didn’t see that coming?).

It is a children’s book, so I wasn’t expecting it to be super duper complicated and just really a bit of fun to break up the weeping muddy explosion that is the Malazan universe. 

The story centers around three young saurs who uncover the evil Queen’s diabolical plan to rule the world using magic. Awesome. We’ve got dinosaurs, an evil queen, and world domination goin’ on. Mainly we follow Adalon (on the cover, I assume) a young noble and promises to exact justice on the Queen for the death of his father. 

The cover for The Lost Caste
Look at him, being all knight-y and prehistoric.

One thing that always surprises me about children’s books (although it says more about the kinds of books I read, I suspect, than children’s books) is how quickly the plot progresses. We are immediately thrown into the thick of things and the plot progresses at a compelling pace. 

However, I do think that this sacrifices something of the prose as a rather inordinate amount of the time (not all the time, but just enough that I noticed it) we are being told what is happening more often than not rather than being shown. I understand that this is also partly to do with tailoring to the audience, as much as I like to imagine I’m still a kid at heart, I know that I have grown up. (Damn you Peter Pan!)

One thing that I did find a bit odd was the description of the saurs themselves. The details were never thoroughly detailed and we are only offered snippets of the saurs in any one paragraph. I guess that a reason for this is that Michael Pryor has devised a world where the dinosaurs have evolved and moved away from the petty classification of us mere humans. Instead of (what I assumed to be a descendant of the iguanadon) we are told they are ‘Clawed Ones’, or instead of some sort of Tyrannosaurus Rex we hear of the ‘Toothed One’. At its face I think this is a good way to try and show what the characters are without bogging the young readership down with too many details. But I did also find that it left a lot to the imagination, which sometimes left me thinking “Oh, maybe they don’t look like I thought they did…”. Although I should qualify this that I was a massive dinosaur nerd when I was a kid (who am I kidding, ‘was’?) so maybe I shouldn’t wait for Pryor to tell me if a character is a Stegasaurus or a Kentrosaurus….

But moving past that and my own geekery, the characters are interesting and there is danger abound and not just the danger of the Queen’s guards that have been set on those she wants eliminated. The three friends we follow (each a different kind of saur) all have their own personalities and Pryor does well to bring them out and show the value of friendship and teamwork throughout. 

So if you like dinosaurs and fantastical stories and you fancy a quick read, or you know a suitable youngling (no, I don’t know why I phrased it like that either) then I would recommend this book. The world is ripe for the picking and Pryor sets himself up for an adventurous romp over the trilogy. 

Iron Druid Chronicles: Impressions

This week I want to talk about the Iron Druid Chronicles, which tell the story of Atticus O’Sullivan. I won’t be giving a review of a specific book because I’ve been getting through the audiobooks and am already on the fourth book in the series (of a current six with the seventh to be released later this year).

Atticus is a 2,000 year old Druid, was born in Ireland, and now resides in Arizona in the USA.

The Iron Druid Chronicles is a nice urban fantasy that strays away from the somewhat common underdog trope. Sure, we all love an underdog, who doesn’t? But sometimes it’s nice to do some reading where the main character knows they can probably handle themselves, steps up to the plate, and knocks it right out of the park.

Sometimes, that’s what Atticus does. Right in the opening of the first book we see him get attacked by fairies (vicious, murderous nobleman type fairies) and he beats them handily them summons something to eat them.

The underdog example being a prominent one, that’s one of the reasons I liked the Dresden Files. Harry Dresden is usually, if not always, on the back foot and you really feel like the story is dragging him kicking and screaming through the mud. But Harry Dresden never gives up, and neither does Atticus O’Sullivan.Full disclosure, in my head I do end up comparing the Iron Druid Chronicles and the Dresden Files in my head quite a lot. I think they have a lot of similarities but also deliver differently on a lot of different things.

On the flip side, the Iron Druid Chronicles you get the impression that Atticus is over his head but in the same way that I can’t breathe if I stand at the bottom of a swimming pool, but I can swim. I can breathe just fine if I use my noggin’ and actually start swimming.

It’s almost unfortunate that this relieves a lot of tension from the story, even when you’re thrown into climactic battles at the end of the books. Atticus just isn’t in trouble like we’re used to. The books are still very enjoyable, I don’t want to detract from that, but perhaps they could be executed a bit better.

The characters in the Iron Druid Chronicles are colourful, varied, and have their own goals and ambitions. One of the things I do love about this series is that it pulls on a mythology that gets less of a look in than the standard European medieval fantasy.

What with Atticus being 2,000 years old he’s old school. Literally. He’s an old Irish druid and he has connections. He personally knows a lot of gods and most of them hail from the Emerald Isle B.C.E.. And I think that’s pretty darn cool.

(Sidenote – anyone want to suggest other fantasy that’s based on Celtic mythology or Ireland? Artemis Fowl not withstanding. I am game for some more of that)

So along with seeing some pretty smart destruction of dangerous faeries very quickly we also see the wonderful entrance of the Celtic goddess of battle, Morrigan, also make a swift appearance. And this is the flip side of being a top dog, It’s a pleasant change from the constant uphill battle, it’s more of a ‘tread carefully lest ye be throttled by a god’ kind of battle.

Speaking of dogs and battle, what good is an age old druid if he doesn’t have some sort of warhound? No good, that’s who.

But never fear, we have Oberon, the Irish wolfhound (come on now, was it really going to be anything else?). Oberon is the comic relief, he has all the typical sensibilities and attention span that you would expect of a dog and comes across as lovable and playful scamp. There are some  flaws with Oberon, I think, though. For example, if there’s a huge Irish wolfhound as the animal familiar of a kick-ass, 2,000 year old druid, I want to see him wreck the place up. You do occasionally see him helping out in some battles, but not being the avatar of doggy death and destruction that you would hope he would be.

Okay with all that I think I’ve rambled on at you enough for now!

To summarise; the Iron Druid Chronicles are quite an entertaining series but with a few flaws. Sometimes you get the feeling it tries too hard to make you laugh. I think this is probably a lot easier to deal with in the books where you can skim over bits, but when you’re listening to the audiobook you’re forced to hear every line of Atticus trying to speak as a lolcat to a vampire, and man is that awkward.

But the flaws shouldn’t stop you. It is a lot of fun and it’s nice to dive straight into the, pretty much non-stop, action. The world is interesting and the characters are fun. And even though there are a couple of bits that I found awkward, which were few and far between to be fair, I also found that I went through the first few books like nobody’s business and that is always a very good sign. So definitely check it out if you enjoy urban fantasy