Four Thoughts on How To Fight a Dragon’s Fury

How-to-train-your-dragonThe first How to Train Your Dragon book (How to Train Your Dragon) came out the year my daughter was born. We love the show and the movies, but they are very different from the book series (which we started reading out loud at bedtime when daughter was around five) and the book series has a special place in our hearts. The last book, which happens to be the twelfth book (How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury), was released in the UK just in time for daughter’s twelfth birthday, and I special ordered it from the UK and read it before I wrapped it. Many tears were shed. Here’s a short, non-spoilery review – it will be released in the USA on November 3, 2015. But you guys, a word to the wise – shipping from the UK is actually pretty cheap. I’m just saying.

How to Train Your Dragon is a series by Cressida Cowell about a Viking boy, Hiccup, and how he becomes a hero “the hard way” with the help of his extremely badly behaved dragon (Toothless), his best friend (Fishlegs) and his other best friend (Camicazi). The movie series of the same name shares names, settings, and some common themes, but is very different in story and detail. For instance, in the books Hiccup speaks Dragonese and can talk to dragons, and Toothless is very small and chatty, while in the movies Toothless is huge and Hiccup communicates with dragons through observation, instinct and empathy but not language.

hqdefault

Here are four non-spoilery thoughts on the final book:

Yes, it really is the last book.

It is actually the last one, and it has an ending that means spin-offs within the universe are possible but the arcs of the main characters are resolved.

It’s dark…

In keeping with the rest of the series, which became progressively darker since Book 3 (How to Speak Dragonese), this book is very dark and scary and at one point I grew so concerned that I skimmed ahead a little just to see if poor Hiccup would ever get some first aid and maybe a snack.

…But it’s also hopeful and inspiring.

As the series grew darker, when my daughter was still pretty young, I worried that it would scare her or upset her, but she was fine. This last book (and the preceding book, How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero), are REALLY intense. However, I like that the series doesn’t talk down to kids. It basically tells them, “Look, being a hero is HARD. And life is hard. But it’s also full of love and joy and friendship, and you can handle it. Now go be awesome.”

cowell-dragon-large

It’s beautiful.

I cried my face off. Seriously. BAWLED. And I won’t tell you if it was a sad cry, a happy cry, or both, but I will tell you that for the most part I was satisfied by the ending. Thank you, Cressida Cowell. Best birthday present ever – at least for me!

USA cover

USA cover

Book Review: Voyage of the Basilisk, by Marie Brennan

cover of Voyage of the BasiliskVoyage of the Basilisk is the third “Memoir of Lady Trent”.  The fictional Lady Trent is a naturalist who travels the world to study dragons.  The books are notable not only for the lovely writing but for an incredibly compelling main character with believable strengths and weaknesses, and great attention to the process of science.  It’s also notable for its gorgeous illustrations, by Todd Lockwood.  My ARC didn’t have the illustrations (!) but here are some illustrations from the first book in the series, A Natural History of Dragons:

dragons, by Todd LockwoodI find that with each Lady Trent book I enjoy the series more, partly because I find her internal struggles more interesting as she ages.  In the first book, she struggles with the idea of marriage, she struggles to win a place in the scientific community, and she and her party struggle to survive in an Eastern European style setting (the books take place in an alternate world that is clearly influenced by the Victorian Era, but which does not adhere to it).  The second book, Tropic of Serpents, has Lady Trent studying dragons in, you guessed it, the Tropics.  I admired this book because of how a variety of non-Caucasian people are involved in the story, and how Lady Trent interacts with them in a manner both plausible and gratifying.  she meets other cultures with confusion but without condenscieion.  It was an especially powerful book because underlying the dragon stuff were themes of grief, class, social roles, and motherhood.  Of the three books, I found Tropic be most emotionally compelling.

Which brings us to Voyage of the Basilisk.  Maybe it’s just that I love a good sea story, but I thought this book was the most fun so far.  I could not get enough of the boat and the diving bell and the sea serpents.  The cover alone made me do a happy dance.  In this installment, Lady Trent embarks on a trip around the world to search for dragons.  She ends up on  a tropical island, where the action slows down a bit (I really liked the boat).  But when I say “slows down”, that’s a bit misleading, because there’s a trip to a volcano, a voyage to the surface of the ocean in a diving bell, a war, and all kinds of other things that I don’t want to spoil.  There’s less internal conflict but lots of exterior conflict.  The visuals and sense of adventure are stunning.

I would have liked more time in this book with Tom and Natalie, who both get less page time in favor of newcomer Suhail, an archeologist who is just as excited about ruins as Lady Trent is about dragons.  I loved getting to see Lady Trent’s son, Jake, growing up, and I got a huge kick out of the captain especially when the captain and Lady Trent teamed up to discipline Jake, who initially saw life on deck as an excuse to run amock.  It’s a wonder he didn’t climb the rigging with a knife between his teeth.

With each Lady Trent book, I’m more enchanted.  I like the science, I like the way the books deal with gender, class, and race, and I love the characters.  I can’t wait for Book 4!  Voyage of the Basilisk comes out tomorrow and it’s worth a buy.