Raptors of Paradise

Raptors of Paradise was first published in 2017 and is Jay Jay Burridge’s debut novel. It is a fantasy adventure set in a world where dinosaurs have never gone extinct. The book forms the first part of The World of Supersaurs series and its sequel, The Stegomancer, is expected to be released in early 2018.

Bea Kingsley is somewhat put out when her grandmother, Bunty, decides that they should suddenly set sail for the distant island of Papua. It’s the summer holidays and she’d much rather be spending it riding on her pet allosaur. Her grandmother claims that it’s because they can’t miss out on the chance to see the rare and beautiful raptors of paradise in their natural environment, but she does not tell Bea the true reason. Bunty has just received a letter dated eleven years previously that reveals that Bea’s parents had also visited the island before their mysterious disappearance.

Under the protection of Bunty’s valet and bodyguard, Theodore Logan, the family begin their trek into the dense jungles of Papua. However, their arrival has angered Hayter – a cruel trader of raptor feathers and self-proclaimed boss of the island. The jungle is full of traps that he has set and anyone who disturbs them soon finds themselves prey for his pet dwarf tyrant, the Beast.

Hayter isn’t the only person stalking Bea and her family. It soon becomes clear that they are being watched by the stealthy and reclusive shadow raptors, as well as the mysterious entity known as the Winged Spirit that protects them. The locals believe that the woods are cursed and that those who enter them are never seen again. However, the truth behind this legend turns out to be much stranger…

Okay, I think that I should probably begin this review with a word of warning. Although it’s clear that this book is aimed at middle grade readers, I will just say that I did find it to be a bit violent in places. It’s never especially graphic but there are a number of scenes that feature either dinosaurs being shot or humans being disembowelled. By far the worst of these scenes comes towards the end of the story, when Hayter mercilessly beats a poor dinosaur with a bullhook. If you’re planning on giving this book to a sensitive reader, I’d recommend having a flip through it first to ensure that you think it’s suitable.

Raptors of Paradise isn’t a greatly original novel, but it’s sure to appeal to any young reader with a love of dinosaurs. The creatures in the story are all familiar, but at the same time seem to have evolved some unique traits. These often take their inspiration from real world animals and it’s very clear that Burridge has put a lot of thought into how dinosaurs would be domesticated by humans. Birdlike raptors are hunted for their beautiful feathers, docile tritops (triceratops) are bred for their meat and the hardy kylos (ankylosaur) is a beast of burden.

While there are plenty of scenes in the novel that depict the dinosaurs in their natural environment, the book is also supplemented with a twenty page appendix that provides encyclopedia entries about all of the dinosaurs that are mentioned in the story. While this a little dry when compared to the likes of J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it still does provide some interesting titbits of information that answer a few questions that readers mind find while reading the story.

However, the plot of Raptors of Paradise does leave something to be desired. My biggest problem with this book is that the story doesn’t really go anywhere. While Bunty’s true reason for coming to the island is revealed in the second chapter, this motivation goes unmentioned for large stretches of the novel.

Ultimately, very little is revealed about Bea’s parents. We don’t find out what they were really doing on the island or what became of them, beyond a small clue which will presumably be the McGuffin that starts the sequel moving. The story isn’t even that descriptive, which does make some of the action sequences a little hard to follow. The only good thing was that the novel did have a decisive ending, neatly wrapping up this part of the story while leaving it clear where the series will be heading next.

However, the book is supplemented by some rather nice black and white illustrations. These are clearly intended to be one of the novel’s biggest selling points as they are designed to be scanned into the Supersaurs app, which can be downloaded for free on the Apple App Store and Google Play. This is an augmented reality software that makes the images pop-out of the page, occasionally moving, making sounds or becoming brightly coloured. It’s a fun gimmick that did give me a little bit of amusement, however I don’t think there is enough additional material in this app to keep a younger reader entertained for long.

Burridge also included a lot of pop-culture references in this story and I’m not sure while. Every single one of them was anachronistic and, as they mainly make reference to films and TV shows from the 70s and 80s, I think that most would fly of the heads of the average middle grade reader. Star Wars, Dune, Jaws, Aliens, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and even The Wombles get referenced in the story either in the form of character names (every one of Hayter’s henchmen is named after a person from one of the Alien movies) to quotes (“The spice must flow”). There is even a major character called Theodore Logan, who is as far removed from the character of the same name in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure as you can get! While these nods were cute at first, they really didn’t add anything the story and started to get on my nerves after a while.

The characters are also pretty forgettable on the whole. They’re all just really bland. All that we learn about the protagonists is through clumsy exposition and the female characters are particularly useless. Bunty is an upper class old dear who has come to the jungle woefully unprepared, wearing her finery and showing no inclination to walk anywhere. While Bea is a little more active, she still constantly seems to be protected by the male characters in the story. Even her artistic ability never really feeds into the plot. While the opening chapter mentions how great she is, I think she only draws one dinosaur over the course of the story.

The villains are also depressingly shallow. The only one that is distinguishable is Hayter and he is just your typical poacher type character. He lives to make money and doesn’t care about the environment or wiping out entire species. He also, disappointing, doesn’t get much in the way of a comeuppance at the end of the story. While the heroes do defeat him, it feels almost certain that he will return to harass them again in a future instalment.

All in all, I found this book to be very forgettable. While I love dinosaurs, this story wasn’t very original and the supplementary material was not enough to increase my interest. I might looking into the sequel one day, but I’m certainly in no hurry to.

Raptors of Paradise can be purchased as a Hardback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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