Falkner gives Napoleon a toothy secret weapon in this decidedly alternate history.
It seems that Europe’s surviving saurs are, with but rare exceptions, small and harmless. Not so the ravening monsters still extant in the mysterious Amerigo Islands across the sea—a circumstance that Bonaparte exploits upon his return from exile with a corps of dino-mounted cavalry that makes all the difference at Waterloo. Rather than exploit the melodramatic possibilities of this premise, though, the author chooses to bury them in a slowly developing adventure centering on Willem, a Flemish lad with a yen to be a stage magician like his vanished father and a knack for hypnotizing the local reptiles that also, it turns out, works on Napoleon’s beasts. The whole battle itself is confined to two localized scenes. Falkner cranks up the pace in the late going while adding such juicy bits as a hunt for a ring through piles of severed limbs and a climactic chase through Antwerp’s rousingly feculent sewers. Unfortunately, readers will first have to wade through eye-glazing accounts of Willem’s earlier years, changing relationships with neighbors and friends, and the patterns of Walloon village life with only occasional glimpses of a larger picture. The episode ends with Willem escaping to England beneath the triumphant Napoleon’s very nose in hopes that his secret can turn the tide.
A long slog to the good parts. Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series for adults offers a similar premise (with dragons rather than dinos) and quicker rewards. (Historical fantasy. 12-14)