Dinotopia: First Flight by James Gurney (1999)

Dinotopia3Cover blurb

THE STORY OF DINOTOPIA UNFOLDS!

The much-anticipated third book in James Gurney’s Dinotopia series takes us back to Dinotopia’s ancient past, where the empire of Poseidos is about to use its robotic technology to capture the peaceful dinosaurs of Dinotopia. Only Gideon Altaire and his faithful mechanical friend, Fritz, can stop this evil plan. But first they must escape Poseidos and win the trust of the prehistoric creatures.

This dramatic addition to the award-winning Dinotopia series tells a tale of partnership and courage, where humans and animals fight side by side to over the greatest challenge yet to free Dinotopia. As a special bonus, the front cover opens up to reveal an easy-to-learn board game. By detaching the game cards fro the back of the book, players can join Gideon on his adventure, experiencing his crushing setbacks and his high-flying triumphs.

My thoughts

If Dinotopia was the equivalent of a novel, then First Flight is the equivalent of a novella. The third book in James Gurney’s series is about 100 pages shorter than the others, and as a result, it doesn’t quite have room for the epic story it wants to tell.

First Flight is set a few thousand years prior to the events in the first two books, when the human empire of Poseidos was at its height. Poseidos is an island kingdom where advanced technology has replaced biology and its citizens drive around in vehicles shaped like dinosaurs. True dinosaurs are not allowed on the island but are instead confined to Dinotopia, which the empire’s leaders are planning to invade.

Gideon Altaire is a young-pilot-in-training who gets kicked out of flight school for being a little too high-minded for his own good. Shortly afterward, he finds a small pterosaur that has injured its wing. Instead of turning the creature over the authorities, Gideon befriends the small animal, who leads him to a group of humans secretly working to protect Dinotopia’s saurian inhabitants. The meeting sets off a series of events that will eventually lead to Gideon becoming the first human to fly on the back of a Quetzalcoatlus — the first skybax rider.

Dinotopia has always been a children’s book series, but First Flight is probably the only title in it that was targeted almost exclusively for children. The text is the uncomplicated, third-person narration used in The World Beneath, and the front cover of the book folds out to unveil a children’s board game. The final two pages of the book are punch-out cards to be used in the game, and while I understand the reasoning behind that, I’ve always been a little wary of books that encourage kids to rip up their pages.

The artwork is superb, as usual for Gurney. There are not many dinosaurs in First Flight when compared to the previous two books, but there are plenty of pterosaurs as well as a gang of furry little extinct mammals that play a key role in the plot. (There also is a rather odd-looking mammal-like reptile I had no idea existed until I encountered it in this book.) The main problem is that the art and the scant 60 pages of the book don’t leave much room for a story. Readers instead get a CliffsNotes version of a story that moves far too quickly and glosses over many details. It would have been nice to spend more time the odd characters or watch Gideon wrestle with the decision to betray the empire that he has called home, but there simply isn’t room.

First Flight is still worth owning if you are a Dinotopia fan, given the quality of the art more than makes up the cover price. Kids also will like the book and the simple board game that comes along with it. Just remind them that it’s not always cool to tear pages out of a book.

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