Thursday, November 10, 2016

Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen review

Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen: a time-travel romance by [Bensen, Daniel M]
Can you dig it?

Does this not right off the bat grab your attention? Well it should, because Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen is a rocking hybrid of pulpy Mesozoic adventure cross-bred with high-tech scifi and a delightful writing style that sucks you in like a whirlpool. Man, where do I even start? It's a pretty hefty book, around 357 pages, with a lot of character stuff and a surprisingly well done romance. Man, remember my surprise with Cry Havoc? A military scifi with sentient dinosaurs decked out with advanced power armor and weapons that sucked me in with a teen romance? Man, there must be something about dinosaurs that breeds romance. Who'd have thought?

I'm not going to cover this book chapter by chapter because it is frigging big, and it has a very non-linear plot which makes it hard to track. So I'll cover the highlights and focus primarily on the characters. Honestly, I think the characters are the biggest strength of this book.

The story starts off very scifi, with a trio of scientists traveling back in time for a simple research expedition guided by former soldier Andrea, who is a real spitfire and isn't quite digging the whole babysitting role. Andrea is a pretty awesome character. She's legitimately tough and a serious adrenaline junkie. She's a former soldier only because the far future is ruled by bureaucrats and since it is such a civilized era surely there is no longer a need for soldiers. Ha! Keep dreaming. She's resentful of the crap job she has and the people she has to put up with. Snooty scientists and hard-tack soldiers don't mix too well.

However, when they arrive in the Cretaceous, they discover that they are not the only humans present. As impossible as it is, there are indeed other humans running around, and the two do not mix well. It's never flat out explained, but it's theorized that some people used a time machine to travel way back when and developed their own societies. The fact that they basically live like cavemen but have access to some technology far ahead of their time such as flares and radios supports this. I actually really like this! It helps give an almost Barsoom feeling to it at times. I like seeing advanced technology side by side with primeval creatures and settings. Some of the slavers are able to speak extremely fractured English, further implying that they are the descendants of rogue time travelers.

I do need to take a moment to explain the power suits that the time travelers have. Unlike Iron Man, these things are skin-tight and look more like a second skin that molds with your body rather than clunky power armor. It can change its shape reflexively to protect the wearer like forming a shield or fire a blast of superheated plasma from the palm. It can also turn the fingers into metal-hard claws and allow the wearer to cut through enemies like spaghetti. That's not counting the increased durability, speed and strength. I gotta say, I really like this idea of power armor. It's something I haven't seen before and reminds me of the Symbiote from Spiderman.

Now, you might wonder what possible threat dinosaurs and bronze-age warriors can pose against these time travelers. Well, they do in fact have one critical weakness: They are programmed by the UN. Yeah, the UN still sucks, even in the future and make Marvel style awesome power armor uncool. It has a ton of prohibitive programs and routines that delay reactions and make fighting effectively almost impossible. Imagine trying to fight via answering an automated customer service system. That's almost literally what it's like. Every time the characters try to fight, the system asks if they want to do this, or that, and are you sure you want to do that? The primitive societies quickly realize that they can paralyze the suits by holding up their hands submissively. The programming thinks "Oh, they're surrendering! Can't let the user hurt them." Meanwhile the assailants are getting into better attack positions, and the user is almost helpless to stop them.

Now, when these two groups meet, it goes very poorly. Lots of people die, including one of the scientists who got a spear through the face, which is uncovered by the suit and is the only vulnerable point.

This is where we meet our other protagonist, the muscle-bound Traals Scarback with his awesome sword made of meteoric iron, Vritai The All-Cutter! And yes, they are pretty much as awesome as they sound. At first glance Traals is just a blood-thirsty and unsophisticated brute. Okay, he is bloodthirsty, very much so, but he is actually exceptionally intelligent and adaptive. He's a warrior philosopher who learned a great deal under an intelligent man who owned him as a slave. Traals did not take well to this occupation, having suffered tremendously, and now has a blood vendetta against the entire society. Honestly, at first, Traals is a huge arsehole. He has one goal only, and that is to bring complete and total ruin to the slavers no matter what he has to do or who he has to throw under the bus.

He is manipulative, deceptive, a first rate con artist and exhibits some sociopathic behavior, although he does end up having an arc. Anyway, without reciting the entire book, circumstances throw the different factions together and a lot of chaos ensues. It has a lot of ERB influence I think with different characters getting kidnapped, trying to rescue others, escaping, and all that sort of thing over and over again. Andrea gets caught by Traals a lot, and I actually kinda call BS on her second capture, seeing as how she's a deadly soldier who has killed multiple people with her bare hands. Seeing her get manhandled the way she did that time felt very false to me.

Anyway, there are a smattering of other characters, but the supporting character that stands out to me the most is actually the other surviving scientist, Chris. He's a paleontologist and loves seeing the animals here, but he's unprepared to deal with the sudden violence and conflict. And when his two companions are killed by these cavemen and Andrea is kidnapped, he begins to snap. Never having had to deal with such intense emotion he reacts with murderous rage. And then he's able to subdue the programming of his suit, giving him extraordinary power in the face of these throwbacks who begin to worship him as a god, which over time even he begins to believe, turning him into a villain.

Honestly, this is one of the most fascinating parts of the entire book to me. Chris serves as this contrast between the tame, civilized world and the savage instincts of Andrea and Traals. Those two are born fighters, veterans of combat of different types. Yet in spite of them enjoying combat, they are extremely careful in how they apply violence. Chris however has no discipline. He hasn't had to build up his skills or learn how to restrain himself. So when he has this god-like power amongst these comparatively helpless people the power begins to go to his head. Violence becomes his answer to those who oppose him and gradually everyone begins to grow fearful of his increasing aggression. I frigging love this.

He also adopts a copper mask to cover his vulnerable face. At first it's simply used as armor, but over time he becomes less and less human, and the wearing and mutilating of the mask further emphasizes his increasing lack of humanity. Now, he doesn't become flat out evil or psychotic. He doesn't turn into a despot and he's actually extremely emotionally fragile. It's this fragility though that let's him go down the path of aggression and using violence to solve his problems. Coveting of women and a burning desire to be loved doesn't help either. He tries to rescue Andrea, and honestly I'm not sure why the two couldn't just find each other and say "Oh hey, let's just run to the time machine and get the crap out of here."

Now before I get to the love story with Andrea and Traals, I should probably discuss the prehistoric stuff. This author goes out of his way to make it as realistic and scientifically accurate as possible. If you're one of those people who got upset at Jurassic World for not giving the raptors feathers, you will love this book. The animals feel real and the landscape feels genuinely different, and not just a generic jungle or desert that happens to have dinosaurs. Some of the critters are domesticated, most notably triceratops, which are universal beasts of burden and war mounts. It works though, and is very fun!

Now, the relationship between Traals and Andrea is complex yet oddly believable. Unlike some love stories I can't point to one specific point and say "This is when they began to get close." It's insidiously subtle, which is a definite point in its favor. I find it fascinating, because the two are on one hand polar opposites, yet still exactly the same. One is from a technologically and socially advanced future, but shuns diplomacy and goes right for hammer and fist approach. The other is from a crude, barbaric and primeval landscape but is exceptionally intelligent and waxes poetic with philosophical musings and political manipulation that would have served him well in DC. It's a fascinating contrast and a wonderful inversion of the usual trope of the person from the future being more advanced than one from the past.

Yet at their cores they both love fighting! They live and lust for battle and living in the moment. There is this crude yet solid core to them both that ties them together.

It's also fascinating to see Traals, who has manipulated people left and right, get completely outmaneuvered by Andrea. He initially just sees her as a means to an end, and he attempts to seduce her to get her to do what he wants. However he is stunned when she instantly picks up on what he's trying to do and turns it back on him. Apparently she's quite familiar with pick up lines and knows how to dominate that field. I was very amused when this horrified him and he had to leave after reacting violently.

I suspect that this inability to control her is what at first sparks his interest in her. Physically he can capture her and keep her from escaping. Heck, he even ropes her into a spear-wedding to keep her from getting killed by the tribe he's with. They didn't take well to her snapping the neck of one of their members. Yet even with this control he can't actually get her under his heel. Her blunt refusal to be diplomatic or be controlled, even if it hurts her, constantly confounds his Machiavellian schemes and makes his political life a nightmare. He tries to keep others from hating her, but she refuses to truly integrate, boasting this "Come at me bro" attitude which keeps him up at night. It's almost like having a WWF fighter at a session in Congress.

That's not to say Andrea is stupid. Oh heck no. She just has no patience for niceties and she can smell when someone is trying to control her, and she won't have any of it, even if it has adverse affects for her. Essentially, this makes her immune to Traals's manipulation, and it's actually pretty beautiful to see him consistently confounded. Then, very much against his will, he discovers that he's falling for her, and is actually horrified. He has genuine PTSD reactions to anyone having any sort of control over him, and the idea that someone has this sort of influence over him that he can't kill freaks him out on a very deep psychological level.

In fact, towards the end of the story this emotionally destroys him, as this love for Andrea overcomes his hatred for the slavers. Suddenly he feels like he has no purpose and just lays there bereft of meaning or goals. It's extremely amusing to see Andrea telling him to suck it up and get back to work though.

In spite of her own abrasive behavior, Andrea actually begins to gain status in the tribe by bringing her combat and tactical knowledge to the table, actually greatly increasing their combat prowess. She even teaches most of the women martial arts to avoid being beaten by their husbands. Not everyone likes her, seeing as how she is still this spitfire that will kill you if you mess with her, but they darned well respect her. She's this nail that just won't be hammered down. I'm still not positive why she falls for Traals though. That's not to say that I don't buy it, because I do, but it's very elusive to me.

Overall, I truly recommend this book. It has a very non-linear plot yet works wonderfully. The different perspectives are wonderfully opinionated. It's almost like each perspective was done by a different writer! The cultures are believable and sometimes beautifully intricate and complex. The scifi concepts are fun and there is a lot to make you think on. You have genuinely serious moments of emotional impact and sometimes slightly silly parts that make you laugh. Andrea and Traals have an epic climax (I know some a-hole will take that out of context) with riding a T-Rex and laying siege to a fortress with a time machine against slavers and a renegade scientist, and the entire book is executed to near perfection. What's not to like?

You can purchase this epic adventure here:


  1. What a great review! Thank you so much :)

    1. (I need to check out Cry Havok too)

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I'm honored that you enjoyed my review! Your book is great and really threw me for a loop. :)

      By all means, check out Cry Havok and its sequel. They are both very solid and enjoyable! The author knows his business.

      If you get the chance, you might take interest in my own humble scribbles. I too happen to enjoy writing about Mesozoic critters clashing with humans. My first attempt is a bit rough, I admit, but I love my little word-child none the less! I'd be honored if you took a peek at the first in my series. :)