Book Review: How To Write Books in a Series–Finally: How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword

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Spoilers.

Bek has proved right, and I owe her a public profession of her correctness. We got together in April, and started somehow or another, in talking about everything and nothing, talking about Cressida Cowell’s How To Train Your Dragon series. I told her I’d sort of fallen out of love and why, and she demanded to know where in the series I’d left off, then proceeded to tell me that the next book—the ninth book, How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword—is where Cowell finally brings it all together, mollifying my complaint that the books that have trying to become book in a series have remained a book series instead.

The witch Excellinor returns in How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword with another prophecy about the next king of the Wilderwest. In book 8, the next king was concluded to be either Hiccup or his nemesis, Alvin the Treacherous, Excellinor’s son. Now Excellinor reveals that the king is going to be known by ten objects, eight of which Hiccup already carries with him or has back home on Berk. These objects Hiccup has been collecting since the first book, one of them being a toothless dragon.

I am reminded again of the parallels that could be drawn between this series and J. K. Rowling’s series for a slightly older audience, Harry Potter. Harry late in the series is told that his quest involves collecting six items—Horcruxes—the first of which he encounters by chance in the second book. Hiccup’s books being so much smaller than Harry’s and Hiccup having more objects besides to collect, it is unsurprisingly really that it has taken Hiccup as long as it has to find the objects—though one could yet question why he needs all of these things—or really any of them (other than to appease a prophecy). Moreover J. K. Rowling gives us a whole 750-page book devoted to the organized and intentional search for Horcruxes. Harry searches for Horcruxes in order to be able to destroy a great Evil and the search can be seen only as fairly selfless. A search conducted by Hiccup for ten objects that would cinch him a powerful title and earthly authority could be misconstrued as selfish—even as the stated goals of his kingship (free the dragons, free the slaves) are fairly selfless—making an intentional and willful search for the King’s Lost Things potentially harmful to Hiccup’s image as selfless hero. So while I did get a bit tired of the episodic quests of earlier books, I see now why it was important for the journey to this ninth book to be so drawn out, why Hiccup’s retrieval of the eight objects had to seem so unconnected to a larger goal.

The Slavemark too that Hiccup has kept hidden since book 7 returns to plague our hero and cause the trouble that we were promised that it would, but being revealed when it is, it is even more troublesome for Hiccup, who seemed prior to its revelation to have finally risen above all the tribes’ prejudice and ridicule and seemed to have won out over his nemesis and the over his enemy, the dragon Furious, who has vowed to destroy all humankind.

So here we have, I think, the beginning of the series reading like books in a series instead of a book series—finally. I hope for good things henceforth.

I tore through How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword in just a few days. By the 75th page if not before I was hooked and deeply entrenched in the suspense of the plot.

Cowell continues to experiment with illustration in this book, using a number of styles. Primarily she uses the 19th and early 20th century captioned illustration, which either captures a singular moment with a repeated line of the text or which is a portrait of a particular character or place. A few of the captions of the illustrations enhance rather than repeat the text, adding lines that could be taken as optional, but I chose to believe were instead text themselves, meant to be read in conjunction with the normally formatted text. She again uses just a touch of mixed media, using a photograph of fire in several instances as dragonfire. I actually feel as if this mixed media was less successful than the mixed media she experimented with in book 8, partially because the photograph was more integrated here with the drawing and partially because the infernos that the photograph was meant to represent I think could have been given more oomph with an illustration instead of a photograph of a narrow tongue of flame. That being said, I see what Cowell was trying to do with the photograph. The photograph looks to be more concentrated fire drawn by Cowell because her drawing style is sketchish and her lines loose, where the photograph is layered as reality.

****

Cowell, Cressida. How to Train Your Dragon, Book 9: How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword. New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2013.  First published 2011.

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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