Here there be some spoilers.
I began the third in Cressida Cowell’s How To Train Your Dragon series, How To Speak Dragonese, by listening to the audio recording read by David Tennant. Halfway through that, I stumbled upon a hardcover copy of the book at my local used bookstore. I couldn’t leave it there. I began the book again, enjoying the visual and textural stimulation with which the audio recording could not provide me. When I had caught up to myself, I passed myself, and I finished the print copy before finishing the audio copy (and have yet to finish the audio and may not).
Though I enjoy the voices with which Tennant reads these stories, they worked against Cowell in this tale, alerting me to one of the plot twists too early. I was unable in rereading to tell if I’d have guessed the twist at the same point without Tennant’s voice acting.
Visually, I appreciate very much Cowell’s use of formatting as well as her illustrations. Always, the Viking’s Norse has been distinguished from Dragonese by its font, but now these are distinguished by their fonts again from Latin, and the nanodragon Ziggerastica’s Dragonese distinguished from all of these by its smaller font size.
This time Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III has to battle Roman legionaries hoping to cause trouble among the local Viking tribes, particularly Hiccup’s Hairy Hooligans and the Bog-Burglars. The Bog-Burglars are a tribe of female warriors led by Big-Boobied Bertha (yeah, you read that correctly). It’s really nice to finally be introduced by Cowell to some female characters. No Astrid, but now we have Camicazi, Big-Boobied Bertha’s daughter and heir to the Bog-Burglars. Camicazi is a small girl and spunky (to say the least). She considers herself a master escaper and unlike Hiccup and Fishlegs does not sit waiting for a rescue but acts to better her situation. She convinces Hiccup and Fishlegs to help her with her first escape attempt, but Hiccup and Fishlegs give up after the first failure—and while this might be amounted to wisdom and common sense as Camicazi’s escape plans become more and more absurd and her punishments become more severe, culminating in several days in solitary confinement, the Vikings won’t escape the Romans by passively waiting, and these characters demonstrate a nice reversal of the too long stereotypically gendered passivity and action.
It is, however, eventually Hiccup’s wits and his ability to talk to dragons that save the trio and Toothless—and Camicazi’s wits and boldness when Hiccup’s getaway boat sinks.
This is definitely a tale that lauds “the little guy,” making it especially tailored to its middle grade readers.
I did not like this book as well as I liked the previous two, but I very much enjoyed Cowell’s representation of the Romans, which while twisted to fit her dragon-filled alternate history, really captures the nastier aspects of the Romans that I didn’t learn about till much later in my life. In middle school, for example, no one told me about the Romans’ habit of making themselves vomit so that they could eat more.
This was perhaps also the most inward of the two books, partially because of the passivity of the protagonists previously mentioned and their confinement, but also because it deals more with Hiccup’s fears that his father might not think him a worthy heir (a theme from the cinematic adaptation How To Train Your Dragon) more than the others have done.
It should also be noted that this is probably the first of the books that really relies on its predecessor; here the books become books in a series and not a book series.
Cowell, Cressida. How To Train Your Dragon, Book 3: How To Speak Dragonese. New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2005.
Cowell, Cressida. How to Train Your Dragon, Book 3: How to Speak Dragonese. 2005. Narr. David Tennant. Audio recording. Hodder Children’s Audio: 2005.
This review is not endorsed by Cressida Cowell, David Tennant, Hodder Children’s Audio, or Little, Brown, and Company, part of Hachette Book Group. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.