Dinocalypse Now isn’t written specifically for younger readers, but with dinosaur attacks, talking apes, Neanderthals, dirigibles, and jet packs, a lot of kids will find it intriguing. It’s set in the world of Spirit of the Century—if you’re not familiar, it’s a bit like the world of Indiana Jones and The Mummy but with even more fantastical elements. In fact, the novel reads a lot like one of those pulp movies, with tons of action interspersed with witty dialogue.
The story focuses on a group of Centurions—members of the Century Club whose job is basically to save the world with quick thinking and nifty inventions—who must face down the threat of the Conqueror Ape and his dinosaur army.
The content is PG, but the novel may be a challenging read for inexperienced readers. There’s a lot going on, and the point of view of each chapter changes depending on where the action is happening. Some of the vocabulary is advanced, and the writing is stylized and full of fragments. It suits the fast pace and tone of the novel, but it may pose a challenge for younger readers. I can imagine my son in particular pointing out the unconventional punctuation and complaining that the writing isn’t in full sentences, since these are things he couldn’t get away with when writing for school. Note: Turns out, this didn’t bother him at all!
Full disclosure: Dinocalypse Now is published by Evil Hat Productions for whom I’ve done some editing. I proofread Dinocalypse Now, for which I’m credited in the book.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Any book set in the 1930’s might have issues with sexism, but this novel offers two strong female characters. Sally Slick—intrepid mechanic and inventor—defies stereotypes and doesn’t hesitate to speak up when she thinks she’s being condescended to. Amelia Stone is on a mission to rid the world of bullies, and she’s quite a force to contend with. Her beauty is noted, but so are her principles. If you pay attention to pronouns, several of the minor warrior characters are female.
The group of heroes is mixed—Amelia is a black Frenchwoman, Benjamin Hu is from Hong Kong—but the character who most explores the idea of being a misunderstood outsider is Professor Khan, the highly intelligent talking ape. He deals with prejudice from people who fear him and underestimate his abilities.
Amelia convinces a drunk boat captain to take her and her companions across the channel to France. Aside from discovering where the dinosaurs are coming from, it goes without incident.
Sex & Romance
There’s a tame love triangle among Sally Slick, Jet Black, and Mack Silver. There’s a little kissing, but it’s mostly amusing banter, inner conflict, and misread intentions. Mack is a bit of a rake, but it’s all through innuendo.
Hell and damn are used with some regularity, and merde is used once.
The book is full of PG-rated movie violence—New York City and several other metropolitan areas are attacked by dinosaurs. Some of the dinosaurs are actually psychosaurs that can attack human minds. This might be a little freaky for some readers, but it’s fairly tame. The fight with the shark-man was a bit disturbing to me—he has all these shark mouths all over his body!—but I’ll chalk that up to watching Jaws too many times.
By the end, the heroes are starting to get beaten up a bit and the injuries stick with them—it gets a little more graphic at this point. The final battle gets pretty intense as the pieces start to fall into place, but it’s in keeping with your average PG adventure movie.
Some of the minor characters are killed in battles. It’s not graphic, but there also aren’t really consequences to it. Amelia Stone is driven by the death of her parents, although this is backstory that’s only mentioned in passing.
I think this story will be appealing for ages 10 and up, although it may be a challenging read for kids under 13 or so. Reading it aloud would let you do great dramatic voices. The chapters are fairly short, full of action, and nearly all end on cliffhangers, so the pace never lets up. The book itself (the first of a trilogy) ends with a cliffhanger, almost literally. This book is great for kids who enjoy action-packed PG to PG-13 rated adventure movies like Indiana Jones and The Mummy.
The boy, now 10 years old, loved this book. I need to take back my thoughts on it being challenging for kids under 13, because my son had no problem with it. It helps that my husband and I both read the book, and my husband could fill in cool details that I didn’t know, like all the Centurions were born on January 1, 1901. This makes Jet’s “But we’re the same age!” complaints that much funnier since they are exactly the same age.
It took my son a few days to read the book (it’s 225 pages), but he looked forward to reading it every night and he talked about it during the day. It’s common for him to take a break during longer books to read something a little less challenging, but that never happened with Dinocalypse Now. He’s anxiously awaiting the sequels, and I’m looking for similar pulp-style novels for him to read.
He also told his sister that he thought she’d like it. He mentioned that it has two female characters who are strong without the men having to be stupid or weak. This is a concept we’ve discussed before, but he himself made the observation that this book fits that idea.