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.