Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels by clicking the links below:
Megamorphs: The Andalite’s Gift
Animorphs Chronicles: The Andalite Chronicles
In the Time of Dinosaurs was written by K.A. Applegate and first published in 1998. It is the second book of the Megamorphs series, a spin-off on the popular science-fiction series, Animorphs. Although the novel is a spin-off, it’s designed to be read after The Decision (the eighteenth book of the main series) so I wouldn’t advise picking up this one until you’ve at least reached that point.
It’s Marco that first hears about the nuclear submarine. The vessel ran into difficulties off the coast of his hometown, trapping its crew at the bottom of the sea. The Animorphs know that they can use their morphing powers to save the day, yet the rescue attempt goes wrong in a way that none of them expect. The submarine explodes with such force that it creates a Sario Rip, sending the Animorphs hurtling back through time.
They find themselves stranded in the late Cretaceous Period, a time when humans do not exist and dinosaurs rule the Earth. Now, at the bottom of the food chain, even their battle morphs are utterly useless. When a kronosaurus devours Rachel and Tobias, the rest of the team have no choice but to flee for their lives. If they are going to survive long enough to find a way home, they know that they will have to acquire some powerful new morphs.
As they explore the jungle, they come across something that none of them were expecting. Two alien races battle for control of the planet – the peaceful Mercora and the vicious Nesk. Caught in the war between them, the Animorphs must find a way to use their technology to recreate the Sario Rip. Yet their time could well be running out as a comet has appeared in the sky…
Of all of the Animorphs spin-off so far, this novel is probably one that ties in least to the original series. It’s first book that does not feature the Yeerks at all and the second one to utilise the concept of a Sario Rip (although it does not focus on the mechanics of time travel quite as closely as in The Forgotten). If you’re expecting a story that expands the universe, develops characters or furthers the overall plot, you will be sorely disappointed. However, that doesn’t change the fact that In the Time of Dinosaurs is a lot of fun.
Other to add more fuel to Cassie’s impending breakdown in The Departure, this book is simply a filler story. Yet, it is one that is full of action and terrifying situations. Personally, I thought that this made the novel a lot more memorable than the first Megamorphs book. The Andalite’s Gift was like two Animorphs stories smushed together – the story concerning the Veelek hunting the Animorphs and Rachel’s amnesia plot. It was over-padded and didn’t feel like anything special. In the Time of Dinosaurs is a different kettle of fish. Even though it doesn’t impact the invasion at all, it feels as though it’s on a different scale to the main series. I mean, the Animorphs have faced their share of intelligent alien foes before but have never been put in such danger by their own planet.
Dinosaur plots are always fun to read, which is why they’re a staple part of children’s literature. Everybody likes reading about huge prehistoric creatures and this book adds a whole different level to this concept. Due to their morphing powers, the Animorphs are able to discover what it’s like to actually be a dinosaur. While I do wish that they’d acquired a wider variety of species (none of the Animorphs try morphing into any herbivores) they do experience the pack mentality of the deinonychus and the terrible power of the tyrannosaurus.
The tragedy of the Mercora and the Nesk is also hauntingly compelling. It’s always clear that this story won’t end well as neither creature seems to have survived to modern times, yet it’s horribly sad to watch their mutual destruction unfold. The comet doesn’t just signify the death of the dinosaurs but also of two highly advanced cultures (one of which has dedicated their lives to peacefully farming broccoli). The scene in which Tobias makes the difficult decision to betray the Mercoras’ trust is particularly hard to read, feeding into the Animorphs series running theme of how war changes people.
Unfortunately, it’s not a perfect novel. I still don’t think that the Megamorphs series needs so many narrators. Given that the group only splits for a short amount of time, there is really no point in giving voice to each of the Animorphs. I found myself forgetting who was providing the perspective for the chapters because they just didn’t sound distinct enough. Really, this novel could have gotten away with having two narrators – probably Tobias and Cassie – as their perspectives were ultimately the most important to the tale.
On top of this, there was certainly an issue in this story with retcons. Firstly, there was Tobias’s broken wing. While it’s been widely established that the Animorphs can heal all injuries by morphing, for some reason this does not work for Tobias in this novel. The reason why is never established – morphing heals Rachel’s burns so should work for him – and so I’m not sure why this plot point was added. The novel also ignores all of the conversations that Ax and Jake had about Sario Rips in The Forgotten, as the point about the death of the person that the rip is centred on breaking the time bubble is never raised. As both characters should be able to remember having this conversation, I’m not sure why neither of them voice this as a possibility.
I also found it difficult to believe that only Tobias knew anything about dinosaurs. Jurassic Park was referenced within this novel, yet the other characters were unable to identify more than the tyrannosaurus and triceratops. Rachel managed to somehow manages to mistake a plesiosaurus for a whale and the others didn’t even realise the significance of the comet until Tobias explained it at the end of the novel. As the whole cast are (presumably) in their early teens, you’d think they’d be more than aware of this fact as most people learn it when they’re very little.
Yet despite my gripes, In the Time of Dinosaurs is a fun novel and I’d recommend it. The biggest disappointment for me was the novel’s brief ending as (like many Animorphs books), all events are wrapped up within a couple of pages. Yet up to that point its certainly action packed and makes for some great light entertainment.
In the Time of Dinosaurs is currently out of print. If you’d like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.