Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older: Book Review

August 17th, 2019 by

dactyl-hill-squadWhat if humans and dinosaurs coexisted? We’ve all seen a few takes on the idea of early humans and dinosaurs living alongside each other back in the day — like the movie The Good Dinosaur, for example.

But what about dinos in New York City during the Civil War? Now that’s an idea that never would have occurred to me. Thank goodness author Daniel José Older has a more imaginative mind than I do!

In his Dactyl Hill Squad series, humans use dinosaurs for everyday transportation: People ride wagons pulled by “trikes” (triceratops) instead of horses. The fire department rides on brontosauruses. Instead of ferries, people ride sauropods that wade through the water. And above the rooftops of NYC, a group of orphan spies ride on pterodactyls.

Orphan spies? Yes, you read that right. Magdalys and her friends live at the Colored Orphan Asylum — that is, until the night rioters burn it down and kidnap the residents. The only ones left are Magdalys and a few other kids who happened to be at a field trip that night, and now it’s up to them to save their friends.

On the way, they team up with the Vigilance Committee, a group of black and brown New Yorkers who have have set up their own community and who protect free blacks in the North from being captured and sold into slavery in the South. These brave, strong men and women have the experience and connections to help Magdalys and her friends. But even so, can a small group of homespun warriors and untrained kids triumph over an established contingent of savage criminals?

I’d definitely recommend that you read the book to find out! It’s full of action, humor, and heart — and don’t forget the dinos! But be warned: The battle sequences are a large part of the book, and they include lots of detail. If you don’t like any violence at all, then this probably isn’t the book for you. It’s not gory, but still, there are quite a few passages focused on the fighting.

Also, you might want to know that a black character in the book is lynched. The actual act of the hanging is not described, but I wanted to mention it because obviously, it’s still horrible. At the same time, it’s important that the book doesn’t skip over such hard realities. Yes, there are dinosaurs, but this is still historical fiction in a way, and the truth is that humans did terrible things to other humans — and somehow justified their actions by saying that white people are naturally and rightfully superior to black people. Even today, we’re still dealing with this attitude and the way that it has played out in our country. So I’m glad that the book forces the reader to face these truths.

But don’t worry — this book isn’t all doom and gloom. Like I said, it’s more of a rip-roaring action adventure. And for good measure, there are also plenty of funny bits as Magdalys and her friends interact with each other.

Fortunately, Dactyl Hill Squad is a series, and the second book is already out. So be sure to add both Book 1 (Dactyl Hill Squad) and Book 2 (Freedom Fire) to your to-read list!

And after you update your list, leave a comment below. I want to know: If you could replace vehicles and other modes of transportation with any animal or any kind of technology (or magic!), what would you choose?

— Karen

Karen hates wasting time in transit and she loves Harry Potter, so naturally she would vote for apparition as her ideal mode of travel.

More about Karen »

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