Imagine Tony Robinson and his Time Team shifting their focus from archaeology to palaeontology, travelling back to the 19th century and setting up camp on the American frontier – this could take reality tv back to the future and in the process breathe life into prehistoric times. A stretch of the imagination undoubtedly but in this often mystical quest for “Black Beauty”, set in the Badlands of the Midwest, you are presented with a cinematic morphing of Juraissac Park and Dances with Wolves.
Professors Bolt and Cartland are polar opposites in personality but joined at the hip in their determination to unearth the remains of the largest dinosaur in the world. One is a pugilistic maverick the other an apparently straitlaced scientist and it is only their respective offspring, Samuel and Rachel, who seem able to keep them digging rather than fighting.
The big skies and endless sun-drenched vistas permeate your imaginary landscape leaving the reader rubbing sand out of their eyes while reaching for that elusive slug of water to slake their sedentary thirst. The clarity of the narrative brings the parched setting to life and makes the suspense crackle as the desert becomes a bone filled battleground with any rule book quickly buried beneath the dubious morals of the key protagonists whose blind ambition blinkers them from the circling Indians whose backyard they have entered unannounced.
The financial rewards that could result from this potentially momentous discovery are the preverbial tyrannosaurus rex in the room but their science scruples do not initially allow money to tarnish their academic legacy.
The Canadian author Kenneth Oppel is able to blend romanticism and realism as the hunt for these long lost bones becomes a soul searching struggle to justify their scientific beliefs against the encroaching Indians seeking vengeance for a macabre insult to their dead.
The visual analogy with modern culture appears inescapable throughout and that gives the book a contemporary appeal. It’s possibly a drug induced notion to imagine Indiana Jones riding triumphantly into the museum on the back of a leviathan from a forgotten world but this book opens your imagination to a different age whose hopes and ideals make you wish for a time when adventure could be experienced rather than observed.
Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel (Published by David Fickling Books. Price £10.99)
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