Stormchaser and Lincoln both make the team heading to Piloria, but for vastly different reasons. Storm is doing it on a lark, at the urging of her friend, mainly to get more rations as the tryouts get better food- she doesn't really care initially about Piloria- whereas Lincoln is going to save his sister, who is dying of a wasting disease. Those who go to Piloria and return successfully get better health care for their family, among other perks. So Lincoln is deadly serious about winning, but he and Storm (and a few others) are thrown together and need to find a way to survive. The trials referred to in the book title are the obstacles the tryouts must face to make the team.
Once they get to Piloria of course things get crazy, with dinosaurs running around and well- laid plans going out the window. The mission this time is to retrieve dinosaur eggs so that they can be analyzed back home, with the goal being to extract DNA and develop a virus or something to kill the dinosaurs. After all, they're just mindless beasts, right? But as the mission goes on Storm and Lincoln start to realize that these creatures, or at least some of them, are intelligent, perhaps even compassionate. Is it right to steal their eggs and maybe consign them to death?
It's kind of like The Hunger Games where a few live in luxury while the rest suffer, and while I'm not saying this is as good as The Hunger Games, it did work for me. It is also very much a YA novel, so if that's an issue for you just a heads- up. The POV shifts between Storm and Lincoln and we get to see their take on things, including their feelings towards the dinosaurs.
The pace really picks up when they hit Piloria, with lots of dinosaur action and a pretty high body count. I loved it. I need more Piloria. I was actually hooked when I saw the map- yes, there's a map, with dinosaur locations and everything- and while some of the world building is iffy (why is Earthasia devoid of resources? Why are humans on one continent and dinosaurs on another?) I was able to easily overlook that, as the story was so compelling. This was a totally fun read and when the sequel arrives in June I'll be dropping everything to grab it.
This might be mildly spoilery but I won't give away anything major. I just wanted to discuss a bit more without dragging the review out forever. I'm intrigued by Storm's connection with the plesiosaur in the loch- this happens in the first chapter so I don't think it's a spoiler- and I thought it would play more of a role. There's definitely something going on there.
One thing I really liked was the disconnect between Storm and Lincoln- she's kind of going along for the ride, while he is focused like a laser on winning the eggs and helping his sister. Who wouldn't do the same under similar circumstances? But it does force him to make decisions that might run counter to what is best for Storm and their companions, and that was a great part of the story. They make a good team, but of course working at cross purposes can take a toll.
As I said above the biggest issue here is the world building. We learn almost nothing about Earthasia and why it is the way it is- is it Earth in the future, and why hasn't Piloria been settled at all? But maybe this is all for future books. And there are some interesting themes here about how we treat other species, our assumptions about their intelligence, and that was a winning element for me also.