Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton

Review by Kylie Thompson

Rating: 4 stars

Genre: action/adventure, historical fiction, historical retellings

Publisher: Harper Collins

 

It’s 1876, and the Bone Wars are as much a part of the West’s ever-changing landscape as the gold-rush. As ‘civilisation’ forces its reach ever outwards, two palaeontologists are on the hunt for fossils- and the fame and glory that go along with such controversial finds. The world is starting to believe in evolution, and the fascination with gigantic, prehistoric beasts is growing with each passing day. For Othniel Charles Marsh and Edwin Drinker Cope, the only worthy place to view the world’s decent into dinosaur fever is from the very top. Bitter enemies, Charles Marsh and Edwin Cope are both determined to become King of the Dinosaurs, no matter what it takes.

One of the deadliest places to be is between either man and a fossil find.

William Johnson doesn’t realise that he’s stepped into a life-or-death situation. After all, the Yale lad thinks a jaunt with Charles Marsh will be a bit of a lark, a character building adventure filled with the ever popular ‘cowboys and Indians’ mythology. He doesn’t expect to be abandoned in Cheyenne, Wyoming, by a teacher whose paranoia has him believing William is a spy out to steal his fossil finds.

When Edwin Cope and his crew arrive on the scene, William knows his only chance at survival is joining Cope’s team- Yale pride means little in the middle of nowhere. But when Cope and his team make a significant discovery, William is dragged into a race against time featuring some of the Wild West’s most infamous characters.

‘Dragon Teeth’ is a hard story to talk about, in a sense. It’s a fictionalised retelling of historical events- the truth and the fictional blurred together until it’s hard to know just how much is exaggeration. But isn’t that true of the best stories? After all, does anyone really believe great Uncle Jack caught a fish larger than his boat that time in the lake? Or that their grandmother’s soup brought their grandfather back from the brink of death?

Here, though, Crichton brings together the thrill-a-minute narrative with a gathering of actual historical documents, with excerpts from William’s journals included throughout the story. It makes for a strangely compelling read, and it’s easy to see how Crichton could become so fascinated with the story he’s telling.

Clearly, a lot of research went into ‘Dragon Teeth.’ It might read as a little dry if you’re not a fan of history, or the search for buried hunks of bone, but for those with a love of the ‘terrible lizards’, this is a book you’re probably going to love.

A PSA, though: those who (understandably) can’t stand the era’s racist rhetoric should know that Crichton keeps to an era-appropriate world view. It’s a glimpse into the past, but it must be said: it’s hard not to come away feeling utterly frustrated by the anglo-centric ideology of the age being explored. I may have muttered some rather unkind things under my breath while reading this book. But if you can stomach the casual racism, or at least grit your teeth thought it, ‘Dragon Teeth’ is really a remarkable story.

 ‘Dragon Teeth’ is published by Harper Collins, and is available where all good books are sold.

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