“This whole thing sounds like the plot for a lot of B movies.”
Thus speaks one of the main characters in Mark Ellis’s dinosaur adventure, Cryptozoica, and the statement reflects what I expected going in with this novel. I had reservations based on a handful of factors. The cover was brightly colored and a tad cheesy. I knew that Mr. Ellis had been a writer for Harlequin’s Gold Eagle line of macho testosterone-and-explosions books, and frankly my limited exposure to Gold Eagle books over the years hadn’t impressed me (though I never read any of the ones written pseudonymously by Ellis). And from the blurb describing the book, this seemed squarely in the pulp tradition of lost worlds, dinosaurs, beautiful women, and heroes named Jack.
That formula isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I happen to love pulp, as anyone reading my own work knows. But I can’t stand bad writing, and a good bit of pulp, both original and modern, is pretty awful.
By the time I finished the prologue — which dramatically ties the novel’s background to Charles Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle — any reservations I had were chased away and I knew I was in good hands. Ellis’s writing is strong and vivid, as any good adventure writer’s should be, and he has an adept sense of story.
To go into much detail would be to spoil some of the book’s many pleasures, but I will say that it is both pretty much what you’d expect from this sort of tale and a lot more. The characters are all interesting and layered, the setting vividly painted, and the action swift and smart and full of cliffhangers. There is science, both real and weird, and Ellis’s excellent research adds interesting detail throughout. There’s a Dragon Lady, Chinese gangsters, secret societies, shifting loyalties, the requisite cool (and hungry) dinosaurs, and a few ancient mysteries. There are also some ever-topical themes relating to science and faith that are very pertinent in our current culture.
The book is nicely illustrated by the cover artist, Jeff Slemons, but I read it on my iPad and the images all loaded at a resolution just low enough to be annoying. It would be nice to see them more clearly (and I know it’s possible, as we managed to do it with my own illustrated novel, Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom).
I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Get yourself to Cryptozoica for some good old fashioned adventure with modern smarts.