Apr 8, 2009

Here, There Be Dragons by James A Owen

Here, There be Dragons by James A Owen

London, 1917. Professor Sigurdsson has just been murdered, and three of his students, John, Jack and Charles, are approached by a strange man named Bert. Bert hands them a book for safekeeping – the Imaginarium Geographica – and tells them that this book is the reason why the Professor was murdered. More: if they don’t accompany him immediately, their lives are also in danger.

And what is the Imaginarium Geographica, you ask? It’s a book that cartographes imaginary lands. All the lands of myth, of legend and of fantasy are there. John, Jack and Charles follow Bert to his ship, the Indigo Dragon, and so begins an adventure that blurs the line between the imaginary and the real.

Here, There Be Dragons is a lot of fun. It’s full of references and allusions to several mythologies, to legends, and to other literary works, especially but not exclusively fantasy works. Some of these are subtle, so it’s likely that the more you like fantasy and mythology to begin with, the more you'll enjoy it. And best of all, the story is a tribute to the imagination, to storytelling, to the joy of an adventure story.

One of the most interesting things about Here, There Be Dragons is only revealed at the end, but I was less than a hundred pages into the book when I guessed it. This quite surprised me, as I’m not usually any good at guessing stuff, and I don’t think it’s very obvious, at least not that early into the story. So either I read a spoiler somewhere and then completely forget about it, or somehow my brain happened to work just like the author’s. When I first began to suspect it, it was more along the lines of, "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if...?"

Either way, I’m not going to tell you what this revelation is, but I hope to have made you curious enough to want to read the book. I will tell you this: the revelation is something that is likely to make even those you weren’t captured by the plot summary want to read this book. It’s something that has to do with the premise of the story itself, and it makes it even more interesting.

Another thing I loved were the full-page black and white illustrations at the beginning of each chapter, done by James A Owen himself. I love me some illustrations, and I wish more books had them. An example:
illustration by James A Owen

But as much as I had fun with this book, there were a few things I had problems with. First, there’s a Taming of the Shrew vibe surrounding Aven, the character in the above illustration, that really didn’t sit well with me. I had this feeling for the whole book without being able to pinpoint why, and then towards the end there’s an unfortunate comment about how she “kept her sharp tongue” but learned proper deference, which only confirmed my impression.

Secondly, I wasn’t too crazy about the writing itself. Again, I'm not sure if I can quite explain why, but something about it bothered me at times. Take the dialogue, for example: the story takes place in 1917, during WWI, yet the real-world characters sounded much too old-fashioned. I wouldn't mind it as much if it were the fantasy world characters, but I don't think people talked like that in 1917. It’s like the author was going for mock-Victorian dialogue, which doesn't seem to make sense in this historical context. I kept thinking that the book was set much earlier, in the Victorian or at most early Edwardian period, only to be startled by a reference to the Great War and remember this was meant to be 1917. Maybe I'm completely wrong about how people spoke back then, but in any case it felt wrong.

The third and final thing that bothered me is spoilerific, so I can’t tell you about it. It has to do with something that happens to one of the characters. If anyone who’s read the book is curious, feel free to e-mail me to discuss it. I’d love that, actually.

So, while I would have liked some more character depth, as well as more realistic dialogue, Here, There Be Dragons was a very fun read. The final revelation and the literary allusions will surely make most fantasy fans smile.

Other Opinions:
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
where troubles melt like lemon drops
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Here, There and Everywhere
Becky’s Book Reviews
Bookshelves of Doom
Muse Book Reviews
Read Warbler

(Let me know if I missed yours.)

34 comments:

  1. I've never heard of this book before but it sounds pretty fun. I'm sorry to hear about the taming of the shrew aspect, though. It really bothers me when authors treat their female characters that way. =(

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  2. My husband has just recently discovered and devoured this series.

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  3. Another blogger (Deslily) raved about these not too long ago and I added them to my ever growing get-to-eventually-list. Sorry you had problems with it though I don't think that will stop me lol.

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  4. This has been on my list for quite a while now. I'll get there eventually... especially because now I'm really curious to know what that final revelation is.

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  5. J.S. Peyton: it bothers me too. She's a secondary characters, so this is something that is mostly in the background, but still :/

    Tricia: I definitely plan on reading the sequels :)

    Ladytink: Yes, don't let it stop you! I didn't love it as much as Deslily, Chris or Rhinoa, unfortunately, but I still had tons of fun with it.

    Kiirstin: I wish I could say it, because knowing it actually makes the book more fun. But the surprise at the end is fun too, and I don't want to spoil that :P

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  6. I tried to read this on a recommendation from a professor (his kids loved them). I really didn't like it at all. Your comment about the dialogue was spot on. The writing was just so bad. I guess the story could have kept me going, but I just couldn't get past the bad writing. There are plenty of other series out there that are entertaining and well written. Oh well. :)

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  7. I must know what the revelation is so of course I will be getting this book soon. I love illustrations too, it helps to bring the story alive!!

    And Aven looks pretty darn tough in that picture and yet, she's letting a man push her into submissiveness?

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  8. Well I've never heard of this before but that's why I read your blog---to be introduced to books I wouldn't normally unless I went looking. This does sound good and the illustration is great. I love when authors include something like that not to mention this is a great cover.

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  9. I liked this book, but there were things that bothered me about it too. Mostly the writing...It never really clicked with me and I don't know if I was ever in love with the story. But it was pretty good...don't know if I'll read the rest of them or not.

    I do LOVE his illustrations though! They're wonderful. And he did a story in Comic Book Tattoo that was really great! Loved the art in that one.

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  10. Well, believe it or not, I've actually had this one sitting on my shelves for a while. But now I've got somewhat mixed feelings about reading it. It still sounds like quite the fun idea to start a story with, which I'm sure is why I bought it to start with. I think it's possible the whole wrong sense of time might annoy me, too. Then again, if I was really enjoying the story, I could probably forgive it. But I am afraid I will miss so much with the allusions, being such a newbie to this whole wonderful fantasy realm. And frankly, the Taming of the Shrew vibe would tick me off, as I have myself in a bit of lather right now reading Jane Eyre. Don't get me wrong, I'm loving Jane Eyre. While it doesn't make it okay, the attitudes then were what they were. It has certainly brought to the surface again how much I take for granted. If that makes sense. But I just don't see what is to be gained, what could possibly be seen as good, in perpetuating such attitudes in a book today. Don't worry though, you haven't stopped me from reading it...I'm just now forewarned that there will be some irritation mixed in with the enjoyment.

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  11. I have this out from the library right now. I hope to get to it at some point and time in the not so distant future! My problem is I don't think the library has the sequels..

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  12. I definitely have not heard of this book. It sounds really interesting though. I wonder if my library might have it.

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  13. Laza: You're right; there really are. I'm curious about how the series will be continued, though, especially knowing what I do about the characters.

    Staci: Let's hope she doesn't! The whole thing was a bit vague and uncertain, but it gave me a bad feeling, you know?

    Dar: That's why I read yours too :D Book bloggers are so great for that. I'm a big fan of the cover as well!

    Chris: Somehow I had the impression you had loved it! I've no idea why. I'm curious to read the rest, but I won't rush to get them. I got this one via bookmooch, and if I'm patient the others will appear too, I bet :P That's awesome that he has a story in Comic Book Tattoo, though! Definitely gives him some extra cool points :P

    Debi: Jane Eyre is quite a mix of traditional and revolutionary, isn't it? The thing is, it was quite subversive for its time, and I can see why Charlotte couldn't go any further than she went with it. I won't spoil it for you, of course, but I think you'll like how the story develops. You'll see :P But yes: though there's a long way to go still, we tend to take a lot for granted. I'm glad to live in this century. Anyway, back to this book: don't worry, I think the references are ones you won't miss for the most part. And even if you did, it's not really essential to the plot that you get them all or anything. There was definitely some annoyance mixed in with the enjoyment for me, but overall I had fun with it.

    Kailana, I look forward to your thoughts on it! About the sequels, the good thing is that it also works as a stand-alone.

    Scrap Girl: I hope it does!

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  14. This is another one of your picks that I think my daughter will love. I also like that it includes illustrations, and I bet she will too!

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  15. Nymeth -

    I just got the bookmarks and absolutely love them! Thank you soooo much! And gosh, I didn't realize how far away you are. :)

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  16. this does sound fun, and I like it when theres illustrations within books. It give it a little something 'extra'. great review!
    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  17. I'll have to come back and read this as I have Here, There be Dragons on my list for the OUaT III challenge and thoroughly intend to read it.

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  18. glad you "sorta enjoyed it" lol.. i guess since I am not the brightest bulb in the pack that the writing didn't strike me as wrong or not so great... ah well.. there is still something about those books that I liked and looking forward to book 4 to come out.. i guess i like all the references and such..

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  19. Zibilee, I hope she enjoys it! The illustrations are awesome.

    Christina: I'm glad they made it safe and sound :D

    Naida, it does indeed :) Illustrations always make me happy.

    Cath: I hope you enjoy it! I look forward to your review :)

    Deslily: Noooo, please don't say that! It's just a matter of taste, it has nothing to do with brightness. And I did enjoy it, especially the references and the final revelation. I can be picky when it comes to writing, and that's not always a plus.

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  20. I've not heard of this book either. And I love illustrations in books; they always make the story seems more lively! :)

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  21. I found your blog through Kailana- it's great! This book sounds fascinating- thanks for a great review!

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  22. I bought this when it came out simply because of the cover and illustrations and, despite Deslily's praise of all the books so far, have yet to read it. It does look and sound lovely and I am sure I will get to it someday!

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  23. I love me some illustrations, and I wish more books had them.

    Me too!! :)

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  24. Melody: That they do :)

    Aarti: Aww, thank you! I hope you stick around :)

    Carl, I hope you enjoy it!

    tanabata: It's not fair that it's mostly children's books that have them! (Well, not that we can't read those too, but you know :P)

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  25. Love the illustration. Another one for the list!

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  26. This was a fun book, though I haven't rushed out to read the rest of the series. I read this last September; my review is here: http://musebookreviews.blogspot.com/2008/09/here-there-be-dragons-by-james-owen.html

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  27. Jenclair, I hope you enjoy it :)

    Jena: Thanks for the link! It sounds like we feel similarly about it. I won't rush to get the others, but I'd like to read them sometime.

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  28. Hmm, sorry to hear about the problems with this book... I just picked it up a few weeks ago, as it's been on my wishlist forever. Maybe I'll get to it during the read-a-thon and we can discuss your mysterious third thing afterwards. :)

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  29. Sorry you didn't love this quite as much as I did but I do hope you continue with the series. I just read the second book, Search for the Red Dragon and am hoping to read book three during the read-a-thon next weekend. Please please email me with the spoiler part you didn't like as I am really interested now!

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  30. Fyrefly, that would be great! I can't wait to see what you think of it.

    Rhinoa: I did enjoy it enough to want to read the next one. And I will e-mail you! I also need to e-mail you about the BOOK YOU WON! Paper Towns, did you see that? I can't believe I haven't yet, but I'm horribly behind on everything, gah.

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  31. Came back to read your review of this book and find we're in agreement. I liked it *but* was my feeling. I especially agree with you about Aven - I wish I could understand why a few male authors feel compelled to make their strong female characters sharp tongued like this. I'm starting to wonder if it says more about *them* than the book. Nice to read another opinion and will follow a few of your links when I have a moment.

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  32. Actually, with regards to Aven, I was deliberately playing with the stereotype (as I did with a lot of other things in that first book) so I could go in another direction with them in the next books.

    A BIG clue to where I really take Aven is in the epilogue. ;)

    And if it helps anyone's perception, I wasn't too keen on the writing in it myself. But I think I manged to improve a bit by Book Three.

    James

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  33. James: thank you for stopping by! That is good to know about Aven and how she develops in the rest of the series. It's just easy for me to go "uh oh" because unfortunately there is no shortage of books that use those stereotypes in entirely non-ironic ways. I look forward to reading The Search for the Red Dragon.

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  34. Oh, I ticked off a number of female friends with Aven, mostly because she SEEMED to be the standard "babe who seems independent but then swoons and ends up marrying the King' stereotype.

    That changed with Book Two, in what I hope was an unexpected turn.

    It would not have been my preference to write about a magic ring, either - but the shape of this first story (especially given who one of the principals is) made it necessary. But I think that example alone - and how it was misperceived by the characters themselves - is a good example of what I was trying to do with the series. Restate the old tropes - then subvert them.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.