Book Review: A More Pensive Adventure and a Loftier Ambition for Hiccup

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Click to visit the series' site for links to order, summary, and sample of the 1st chapter.

Spoilers ahoy!

In How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm, the seventh book of Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon series, after Hiccup’s quick thinking and smooth tongue creates a tenuous truce between the Murderous Tribe and the already tenuously allied Bog-Burglars and Hairy Hooligans (A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons), Madguts the Murderous invites the three tribes to compete in a Friendly Swimming Race. The point of a Proper Viking Swimming Race is to be the last back, having survived the frigid waters, the Shark Worms, and the trickery of other Vikings, and having had the strength to do so while fully clothed and heavily armored. The last back has to promise that he “did not seek aid by Float or Boat” (240). Caught in the outgoing tide, Hiccup, Fishlegs, and Camicazi are plucked from the water by Raptortongues and brought to the boat of Norbert the Nutjob (How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse), from whom I forgot that Hiccup stole a ticking-thing that is much more than clock or alarm clock (and which gives me some insight into the twelve hands of a Wizarding clock and a strong desire for an analog watch that is also a compass because that ought to be easy to create—ha! and they do exist!). Hiccup manages to evade an immediate death for himself and his friends and buys their safe passage on Norbert’s ship, but along with the three Vikings, Norbert has a cargo of slaves convinced that all Vikings are “vermin, wicked and brutish enslavers” deserving death (98).  To save himself from them, Hiccup makes a bargain with the slaves, promising to free them, but in return, the slaves brand Hiccup indelibly as a slave so that he cannot forget his promise. This mark means instant banishment for any Viking regardless of the circumstances in which it’s acquired, and so Hiccup will have to keep it hidden from now on, but as the elder Hiccup says in the Dumbledore-esque reflection that closes the memoir, “maybe all Kings should bear the Slavemark, to remind them that they should be slaves to their people, rather than the other way around” (250). This, Hiccup says, is the adventure on which he decides that he not only wants to be Chief but King to be able to create a new world with justice, without fear, and without slavery—and I’m going to enjoy watching his journey into the King that drives out all of the frightful things of his world (even if that means the retreat of dragons). That reflection at the end is supremely uplifting, washing away the memories of the book’s darkness and the dangers of the Great West Ocean and the deaths (though I’m not convinced that Norbert will stay any more dead than Alvin has had the tendency to do, though it might take him some time to return to plague Hiccup and the Archipelago). Hiccup, ever forward thinking and never greedy, begins his new world at the end of the book’s plot by breaking an age-old cycle of violence.

As ever, this How to Train Your Dragon book is fraught with adventure, excitement, danger, and proof that brains and heart can make one just as heroic as brawn and brutality and trickery if not more so.  I was more caught up in the adventure and the lessons learned by Hiccup than I was in stitches from Cowell’s wittiness.  While I was attracted at first by her humor as much as her hero, I think the series is becoming more serious.  I’m not displeased.  I’ve always been fonder of books in a series (books about a character or characters between which and through which time passes and the characters mature and grow) than a book series (a series without progressive character growth from one book to the next, something like The Boxcar Children written under the pen name Gertrude Chandler Warner or The Pony Pals written under the pen name Jeanne Betancourt).  Cowell has struggled somewhat with the books in a series concept, often dropping characters (where is my lame Windwalker since book 5?) or objects (the ticking-thing hasn’t been mentioned since book 4.  I notice that the bracelet from book 5 is back, though, after missing from the illustrations in book 6) as she has found them unnecessary.  I’m really hoping to see her improve, but I’m willing to enjoy the books despite that inadequacy.

****

Cowell, Cressida.  How to Train Your Dragon, Book 7: How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm.  New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2011.  First published in the UK 2008.

This review is not endorsed by Cressida Cowell, Little, Brown and Company, or Hachette Book Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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