Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara. By James Gurney. Andrews McMeel. $29.95.
Ilario: The Stone Golem—A Story of the First History, Book Two. By Mary Gentle. Eos. $14.95.
James Gurney’s tales of Dinotopia are unending feasts for the eyes, even if the underlying stories tend to be rather thin. Gurney’s newest book, Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, actually has some clever writing here and there: “Bix, my faithful ally, was a diminutive Protoceratops, the size of a sheep and the color of a musk mallow, with a fearless heart, a creaky voice, and an old-style kindliness, like a parrot raised in the company of Presbyterians.” But even the more-interesting portions of the narrative take a back seat to the magnificently realized portraits of intelligent dinosaurs living and interacting with human beings. One of the extraordinary things about Gurney’s oil paintings is the way he painstakingly shows the faces and bodies of the humans, bringing out their personalities and peculiarities expertly through form and expression – and then applies exactly the same techniques to the dinosaurs. The result is a visualization of equals, drawing readers inexorably into the isolated island world of Dinotopia with a believability that the entirely fantastic plots of the stories could not otherwise achieve. Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara is a very handsome book, of coffee-table size and with an included “Traveler’s Map of Dinotopia” from the “Global Geographic Society” that provides additional background for the story. The pictures are full of surprises. One, for example, appears to show a large and fearsomely clawed dinosaur threatening a man and a much smaller dinosaur – but the caption reads, “Bix admires the claws of Henriette, the Therizinosaurus.” The dinosaurs’ anatomy is beautifully rendered, the colors are gorgeous in indoor and outdoor scenes alike, and the book is such a visual pleasure that it is tempting just to look at it without reading it. There is a story, though, about a journey from the more-familiar realm of
The second and concluding book of the adventures of Ilario is a fantasy, too, but Mary Gentle makes no particular attempt to render it realistic – she makes it clear that this is an alternative history. The first book of this pair, Ilario: The Lion’s Eye, detailed the early adventures of the sexually dual-nature Ilario, a would-be artist who seems male but is so fully female that he/she becomes pregnant and, at the end of that book, gives birth. The second book, Ilario: The Stone Golem, gets more deeply into court intrigue and political machinations, with the golem of the title being created in