The Extinction Trials

The Extinction Trials was first published in 2017 and is S.M. Wilson’s debut novel. It is a dystopian science fiction story, set in an overpopulated world where humans live alongside dinosaurs. The book is the first part of a planned series and its sequel – Exile – is expected to be released in June of this year.

The continent of Earthasia is in trouble. Its overpopulation is starting to hit critical levels and there is nowhere near enough food, shelter or healthcare to go around. With deadly illnesses beginning to spread, the ruling class of Stipulators begins to turn their attention to the neighbouring continent of Piloria. This place is a paradise of untapped resources and exotic plants but there is one problem. Piloria is overrun with man-eating dinosaurs and every expedition there ends badly.

When the Stipulators announce a trial to decide who is worthy of taking their next expedition, Stormchaser Knux only really takes part for the increased food rations. However, as she starts to do well in the contest, she grows curious to visit Piloria to see if the dinosaurs really are mindless monsters. Lincoln Kreft has a far more serious reason for wanting to take part. Survivors are granted top-class healthcare which is the only thing that can save his sister from the plague.

However, the expedition this time is more dangerous than ever before. The Stipulators need a sample of DNA from the deadliest species of dinosaurs – velociraptors, pterodactyls and tyrannosaurs – and the only way to get this is to steal dinosaur eggs. The person to deliver the most eggs will reap huge rewards for themselves; the rest will be lucky to leave with their lives…

The Extinction Trials is a very strong debut novel that does exactly what it says on the tin. The cover quote promises that the story is “The Hunger Games meets Jurassic Park” and this is certainly not far from the mark. Like The Hunger Games, the novel starts out in the poorest corner of a harsh, dystopian future and quickly escalates into a series of trials. While these trials were voluntary and were not all terribly dangerous, they did range from having to prove that contenders could scale cliff faces, to stealing eggs from under the nose of an angry mother tyrannosaurus.

Although the contenders were not fighting for their lives at any point, they really might as well have been. The dangers of Earthasia are made clear in the early chapters, when we see Lincoln’s sister slowly succumbing to a horrible disease with no hope of medical aid. The plot is surprisingly political, casting a shadow of modern day concerns such as the dangers of overpopulation and removing public access to free healthcare. The “prize” of unlimited rations and medicine was simple but incredibly desirable, and you can understand why people would knowingly risk life and limb to ensure that their families were provided for.

Yet there is also an interesting ethical side to the story. While the conditions that people live in are terrible, it’s entirely their own doing. Stormchaser is astute enough to realise that they can’t blame anyone else for ruining their world, and it’s heavily implied that the Stipulators could be doing a lot more to make it better. While some of the dinosaurs in the novel are savage, the story also makes clear that they are highly intelligent and so the reader is forced to question if it is morally right to wipe them out for the sake of people.

This sense of wrongness only grows stronger as the novel progresses. It’s very clear that the reader is only seeing one side of the story in this book, and that the Stipulators may not be as benevolent as they like to make out. There is certainly an undercurrent of conspiracy – that the Stipulators may know more about the dinosaurs than they claim. While are they targeting pterodactyls when they are not meat eaters? Why aren’t the attacking the huge threat of the aquatic carnivores? Will they stop at wiping out the big three, or will the large herbivores be next? Here’s hoping that all of these questions are answered in the next instalment.

My only real issue with the story was that I didn’t think that it was quite exciting enough. While Stormchaser, Lincoln and their team are left to survive for a week in a dinosaur-infested jungle, the book does not really ever become a Jurassic Park-style battle for survival. Sure, the dinosaurs do tear their way through 90% of the secondary characters, but this largely just occurred off page. While a couple of major characters do die, there really aren’t many occasions where we see the protagonists using their wits to survive. Largely, they either run away from threats, or problems just resolve themselves, like a larger dinosaur taking out the predator stalking them.

The Extinction Trials is generally well written, but did contain a few editorial errors that I felt should have been picked up. The most glaring of these was a mistake in character names, which resorted in a dead character returning to check the contents of his bag, which did bring me out of the moment. However, I did get really invested in this story and tore through it. The ending wrapped up this stage of the story quite nicely, while still leaving the promise of greater threats to come.

The strongest aspect of the story by far was its characters. I loved Stormchaser and Lincoln equally. They were both very different characters and this came across well in the narration of their chapters. While I did find their train of conscious to be a bit repetitive at times (there are only so many ways that Stormchaser can voice her ethical concerns), it was easy to understand and accept their reasons for taking the trials.

Stormchaser starts out as an opportunist, hoping to play the system for a few days to score some better rations, yet quickly finds that she does well and wants to win a spot on the expedition just to prove that she can. Lincoln doesn’t really want to go, but has been backed into a corner. The reader wants him to succeed for his sister’s sake, even if it’s worrying what lengths he will go to in order to do this. While the novel does develop a small spark of attraction between the two of them, there isn’t any romance in this story. Personally, I really liked this. There is definitely scope for this to develop in the future, but it wasn’t shoehorned in this time around.

The only thing that I would like to see more of in the sequel is the villains. While the Stipulators were ever present and it was indicated that Stormchaser didn’t trust them, we don’t really learn why they have this reputation. They were a little bit faceless, setting the rules but with no clear motivation for behaving the way they do. I’d really like to see things from their perspective a little more, so we can get a better idea of why they are hiding the things that they do clearly already know about the dinosaurs.

All in all, I thought that The Extinction Trials was a great opening to the series. It set the scene well and had some really strong protagonists. I look forward to getting my hands on its sequel when it’s released later this year.

The Extinction Trials can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Extinction Trials: Exile | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: The Sobeks 2018 – Part 1 | Arkham Reviews
  3. Trackback: The Extinction Trials: Rebel | Arkham Reviews

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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