Sunday, 19 April 2009

Here, There be Dragons

My lovely friend, Deslily, made a gift of Here, There be Dragons by James A. Owen, to me last Christmas. I thought it would be ideal to read for Carl's Once Upon a Time III challenge, and so it turned out to be.



The story begins with a murder. Professor Sigurdsson, is killed in his study by person, or things, unknown. John, the professor's student, Jack and Charles are summoned to the house by the police to be interviewed. The year is 1917, and John is on sick leave from the trenches of WW1. The police leave and a very unusual looking little man suddenly appears at the house, looking for the three friends: this is 'Bert'. He tells John that he is now the caretaker of The Imaginarium Geographica, a magical book which is basically an atlas of the world of the imagination, and that this world is real, it actually exists.

The four are suddenly on the run as the professor's murderers turn up to steal the book and kill them too. There's a ship waiting for them at the docks, The Indigo Dragon, and they just about escape with their lives, setting sail for the Archipeligo of Dreams.

It seems the lands of the Archipeligo are being taken over by the Winter King, and the people turned into Shadow-born. The king is after the Imaginarium Geographica to help him with his evil doings and it's the friends' jobs to protect the book and try to defeat the Winter King. It's no small undertaking and they will need all the help they can get. Thus, they travel from island to island picking up information along the way, as well as an odd young man named 'Bug'. Adventure follows adventure and some familiar characters crop up or are involved historically. And... as the title suggests... there are certainly dragons!

It's no surprise that this book reminded me of other books as the literary referances are everywhere. Some of the background is Arthurian for instance but not quite as we know it. I won't say more than that or considerable spoilers might be involved. What I will say is that I liked the setting very much. That's doubtless because I'm a real sucker for these maritime worlds with many small islands. This one reminded me a bit of Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea books, or the Clive Barker book, Abarat. What can I say? I'm Cornish, my blood is fifty per cent sea-water...

I have to be honest and say that I'm not really sure that this book was everything I wanted it to be. But I'm struggling to put my finger on why. A slight lack of depth maybe? The characterisation wasn't great? I don't know. I found myself annoyed too by yet another male author creating what should have been a strong and interesting female character, Aven, but making her shrewish and sharp tongued. As though he thinks that women can't lead without being like that. I won't climb up on my soapbox about this again as it's getting boring - I just wish some of these men would stop writing women like this.

That said, I still found this book to be a worthwhile read. It certainly has enough imagination and good things about it to make me want to read book two and discover what form the next adventure will take. Physically, the book is very beautiful. The illustrations are very good - a nice addition to the book, I feel - and the cover is gorgeous. I'm pretty sure my county library keeps these titles so will look for the next book, Search for the Red Dragon, there.

12 comments:

DesLily said...

well, I'm glad it wasn't a total bust, lol.. and I've liked the other two books that follows that one.. now I am waiting for yet another that follows! (that was a surprise, thought it would be a trilogy... it's a series!) I am beginning to think i am a sucker for any fantasy that has a touch of "England" in it.. especially "old England"...

Nymeth said...

We really are on the same page about this one. I wonder if those authors actually perceive women like that? :/

In any case, I did like it well enough to want to read the sequel as well.

Rhinoa said...

I love this series and hope you keep going with it. The second is very fast paced and full and the third is a bit more chilled and something you might enjoy more. I am interested to see what the film will be like.

Cath said...

Not at all a total bust, Pat. There was a lot to like about the book and I certainly intend to read the whole series. And I'm actually glad that it's a series and not a trilogy!

Nymeth: I liked it well enough to read more too.

Yes, I do seriously believe that plenty of male authors see women in stereotypes *or* idealise them when they write them. Not many seem to get women as they really are. One of the few who gets it right, imo, is Terry Pratchett.

Rhinoa: I'm definitely going to continue on with this series and am looking forward to the rest. I had no idea they were making a film. *That* should be interesting!

Kailana said...

hm, I have this book out from the library. I really should read it and see what all the fuss is about!

Cath said...

Kailana: I hope you do read it. It's a fun book which seems to have caused quite a lot of discussion... which is always a good thing, imo.

Jena said...

Yes, the shrewish female bugged me, too. (It's really unfortunate that there are so many shrewish women out there to support the stereotype, though.)

I liked it, too, but you're right--there was a definite sense of being left wanting. Like it had this opportunity to be fantastic, and instead it's just good. I haven't run out to buy the sequel, though.

Cath said...

Jenna: you make a really good point that there are plenty of shrewish women out there to support the author's theory! We tend to forget maybe that stereotypes *are* stereotypes because they do actually exist.

I'll certainly be reading the next book but will hopefully be able to get it from the library.

coppervale said...

There are LOTS of stereotypes in the first book, in large part because it was necessary to have them - including my portrayal of Aven.

She does not quite turn out as everyone is worried she will - there's a big hint to the direction I take in the epilogue of Book One.

(Actually, the stereotype I was taking to task - which MANY female friends called me on, because they saw what I hoped they'd see - was the whole "independent woman who swoons for one of the male suitors then becomes the submissive queen'. Not my Aven, which surprised a lot of readers of book Two...)

;)

James

Cath said...

James: Thanks for visiting my blog! I was just chatting on the phone to the American friend (Deslily at Here, there and Everywhere) who gave me your book and we talked at length about it and the characters and both said how beautiful the book is with the illustrations etc. Now you've both whetted my appetite to read book 2 to see what you do with Aven and the others. I'm really pleased to hear there might be some surprises. :-)

Ms. Yingling said...

I think the problem with these books is that they really need to be read several times for the full effect. I won't have time, but there are a lot of teens who will really study these and hunt down all the allusions.

Cath said...

Ms. Yingling: the problem for me is not really that I didn't catch the references, the problem is more basic than that. The Americanisation of what were supposed to be Edwardian British children for instance... the use of modern American speech in what is supposed to be an historical, albeit 'fantasy', just jarred with me. And there were other things too so I won't be continuing with this series.