Tag Archives: DreamWorks

Book Review: How to Break a Dragon’s Heart Still Waffles Between Book Series and Books in a Series

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Spoilers!

The eighth book in Cressida Cowell’s How To Train Your Dragon series, How to Break a Dragon’s Heart deals with heartache: betrayal and unrequited romance. I’ve said before that the plots of these books seem to be becoming larger, more epic. This book’s plot gets larger still. A witch locked long in a tree tells Hiccup that he was never destined to be born, that his parents were never meant to marry. But this Hiccup in destiny has created in Hiccup a second possible heir and hero of a prophecy, the other possible hero being Alvin the Treacherous, Hiccup’s ever-returning-from-seemingly-inescapable-peril arch-nemesis and (we learn in this tale) a distant relation of Hiccup’s. Hiccup or Alvin is destined to be King of all of the Archipelago, a role that previous books have promised us that Hiccup will attain.

As much as I appreciate Hiccup’s reflective chapters as endings to each of these books for the emotional punch that Cowell tends to use them to deliver and for the poetry of their prose and sentiments, they do rather detract from the mystery and suspense. I wonder how far Cowell expected to write in Hiccup’s timeline, whether she ever dreamed she’d be allowed to tell this much of the arc, and whether she regrets now the decision to reveal early his destiny.

Could the attainment of his crown or of the peace that his reign will bring according to the older Hiccup be the goal that finally makes this series more of books in a series and less a book series? So far, the series has lacked a continuous problem. In books in a series, the Ring has to get to Mordor and Sauron must be defeated—or Harry has to graduate and Voldemort must be defeated—or even Clary and Jace have to be together. Right now there is no problem that, when solved, we know will mark the end of Cowell’s series. Hiccup’s adventures have been episodic rather than serial. Each completed quest has meant the attainment of some goal, but they have brought Hiccup, cumulatively, no further towards one goal more important than all the others.

Honestly, I’m starting to get a bit tired of Hiccup’s adventures, and I think a goal would go a long way towards providing me with the motivation to finish this series, which is slated to be a full twelve books long. Not because book series are in any way necessary lesser than books in a series. There has not been an episodic book series that I’ve taken to in quite some time. I think I personally prefer to see books in a series with good character growth and a complex plot needing more than one book to be properly told. If How to Train Your Dragon remains episodic, it will not make it lesser writing. I want to make that clear. I write with a clear preference towards the epic. I think for this book series, particularly, though, the waffling on the threshold of epic has become somewhat tiresome. I want soon to know on which side of the door I can firmly stand.

Beyond this plot of Alvin and Hiccup warring over the throne, Furious the dragon has sworn to bring an army of dragons against the humans, destroying them all lest the humans destroy each dragon. Now, eight books in, we get to the war of Dreamworks’ film adaptation (I really believed DreamWorks had invented a war between dragons and Vikings).

I do want to take a moment to praise the page layout for the chapters where POV characters were locked in hollow tree dungeons. That’s a cool use of mixed media.

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***1/2

Cowell, Cressida. How to Train Your Dragon, Book 8: How to Break a Dragon’s Heart. New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2009.

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.

Book Reviews: A Few More Morals and Misadventures From Berk

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The lesson of How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse, the fourth book of Cressida Cowell’s How To Train Your Dragon series, is that fate can be altered and your own luck can be made by you—which is interestingly contrasted with the prophecies scattered throughout these plots and the patrilineal monarchy of the Viking tribe of which the book’s hero, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, is a part.  Hiccup will (unless something happens to him) become chief of the Hairy Hooligans.  If Hiccup does not survive to take up the chieftaincy, his cousin, Snotface Snotlout, will take his place. I’m interested to see if, as the series, progresses, Cowell plays with this newly introduced concept of creating luck and altering fate against the seemingly fixed destiny of her hero, whom the reader from the beginning knows will become a famous Viking hero, the series being written as a set of his memoirs, and the elder Hiccup telling “this story as if it happened to somebody else, because the boy [he] once was is so distant to [him] now, that he might as well be a stranger” (Prologue, How To Twist a Dragon’s Tale).

Probably the star here is the ludicrous ideas of a medieval culture that believed that the world was flat.  Hiccup seeks the vegetable-that-no-one-dares-name, a potato, a strange probably imaginary plant from the mythical land of America.  Yet, only a potato can counteract the deadly poison of the Venomous Vorpent, and Hiccup needs that cure badly.

The book does teach readers to stand up for, protect, and cling to friends, which ordinarily I would think to be a incontestably good lesson, but Hiccup clings to Fishlegs against his father’s command.  While children need to learn whom to befriend and whom they should not, and parents can misjudge children, parents often have a good sense about whether or not their children’s friends are positive or negative influences, and I’m not sure that teaching children to flout their parents’ judgment is ideal—however flawed Stoick the Vast’s judgments have proved in the past—and they have proved to be quite poor, and I would have Hiccup cling to Fishlegs, especially in lieu of his father’s suggestion that Hiccup befriend his bullying cousin, Snotlout.

****

Before I could finish a review of How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse, I went ahead and listened to the audiobook, read by David Tennant, of the fifth book in the series, How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale, so now I can answer some of the questions that I was posing in the review of book 4.

As yet, Cowell has done little with book 4’s lesson about the opportunity to change fate, other than to remind that readers that it’s never too late to do something heroic.  I suppose the primary moral of this tale is best summed up by Stoick the Vast: “WE WILL NEVER SURRENDER!” (69).  The primary quest of How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale is one to stop a volcano from exploding and hatching a flock of rare and particularly vicious Exterminator Dragons.

How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale sees the return of Hiccup’s arch-enemy, Alvin the Treacherous, still not dead, and it introduces a very Harry Potter-like element to Hiccup’s and Alvin’s conflict (with Alvin having created his own worst enemy in Hiccup, and yes, I fear that concept was used by Rowling first).  We also learn more about Hiccup’s mother, a very shadowy woman, mentioned previously really only by name and as possessing an “extra-strong, heavy-duty bra” (How to Train Your Dragon 169).  She still does not make much of an appearance and seems to be a rather absent parent, being too busy questing to be at home with her family, but her back story and Stoick’s is delved into.

Cowell plays with the western fairy tale/hero story clichés, having riders on white and black dragons.

This is the first of her books where dragons are ridden.  Still no Night Furies, but Hiccup now has a lame Windwalker, too young yet to fly, but he will carry Hiccup along the ground.  Could this be the inspiration for the half-tailed Toothless of Dreamworks’?  Hiccup’s Windwalker is illustrated more darkly than other dragons, so I’m supposing that he is black.  The Windwalker as yet has no name.

The illustrations are particularly emotive.  I after listening to the audiobook, opened the book that I had and looked at the illustrations.

I especially enjoyed David Tennant singing with the many voices of the Vikings in this book.

****1/2

Cowell, Cressida.  How To Train Your Dragon, Book 4: How To Cheat a Dragon’s Curse.  2006.  New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2010.

Cowell, Cressida.  How To Train Your Dragon, Book  5: How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale.  2007.  New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2010.

Cowell, Cressida.  How to Train Your Dragon, Book 5: How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale.  Narr. David Tennant.  Hodder Children’s Audio: 2007.  Audio recording.

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.

Book Review: Hiccup’s World Expands in How To Speak Dragonese

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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.

Book Review: Hiccup’s Adventures Continue in How to Be a Pirate

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I’ve been feeling ill these past few days and several weeks ago a friend had been listening to the How to Train Your Dragon series on audio and recommending them to me.  I remembered this recommendation one night when I didn’t want to watch anymore TV and didn’t feel as if I had the focus to want to read but wanted a story to distract me.  Having already read How to Train Your Dragon, the first in the series of “memoirs” by the Viking hero Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, I found an audiobook of the second in the series, How to Be a Pirate.  Cressida Cowell’s books are read by David Tennant in his natural Scottish accent.  Having David Tennant read to me a book filled with humor and adventure in voices such as my parents never managed was a true blessing while I was miserable.

A great fan of the film done by DreamWorks, in my mind the main characters are even more fleshy than those illustrations offered by Cowell in the prequel to this story—and Hiccup is a brunette rather than a redhead, though Toothless’ film incarnation and book illustration I am able to separate, remembering that when I am reading or listening to the book, Toothless is a green Common or Garden dragon about the size of small kitten.  I did not for these familiar characters mind the absence of Cowell’s illustrations necessitated by the audiobook format.  But for new characters—in particular Alvin the Poor-but-Honest-Farmer, who is the catalyst of the adventure—I was surprised to find myself missing the sketchy illustrations by Cowell (though when I found her illustration of the man, I preferred the image of Alvin that my mind had cooked up).

I worried that the series might be one of those the adventures of which became repetitive.  Two books in, I can’t fault the series for that.  This second book was different enough from the first to be just as interesting and just as funny—if not more so.  I think Tennant’s voice acting may have added to the humor of the book.  Certainly, he made the sarcasm in Hiccup’s tone more palpable.

This second book continues Hiccup’s challenge to be accepted as Hope and Heir to the Tribe of the Hairy Hooligans.  He combats bullies and Viking ideals, to which he does not conform.  Hiccup again leads the Hairy Hooligans, but not in the obvious ways that he does in How to Train Your Dragon.  There, Hiccup won the Hooligans’ admiration through action.  Here, he won my admiration through inaction.  He shows that he is not only clever and brave but wise, [SPOILER] foregoing glory and riches for to protect his people from a danger they cannot see and from a danger that they desire and covet. [END SPOILER]

This is still technically a boys’ book, even more devoid than the last of a female presence, the only female figures being a dragon or two, but even while I recognize Cowell’s intended audience, I still object that I am a woman and I enjoyed the book.  (Categorizing books into boys’ and girls’ requires pigeonholing and often involves adherence to a should-be-dead system of bias and prejudice whereby girls must become housewives and child-bearers and boys can be adventures and heroes.)

****

Cowell, Cressida.  How to Train Your Dragon, Book 2: How to Be a Pirate.  2004.  Narr. David Tennant.  Audio recording.  Hodder Children’s Audio: 2004.

This review is not endorsed by Cressida Cowell, David Tennant, Hodder Children’s Audio, or the original print publisher, Little, Brown, and Company, part of Hachette Book Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: How To Train Your Dragon: Time to Un-Banish the Book for Lighthearted Fun and Important Lessons

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Berk.  “The only problem is the pests.”  Right?

In Cressida Cowell’s book How to Train Your Dragon, first in a series of “memoirs” by Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, dragons are not pests; they’re pets, cat-like creatures about the size of leopards with the same duties as hunting falcons.  Sorry, all.  No one’s riding Toothless.  The only thing remarkable about Toothless, a Common or Garden dragon (who knows where DreamWorks got the idea for a Night Fury), is his very, very small size (Terrible Terror-sized maybe).

Hiccup is still the sarcastic only son of Chief Stoick the Vast.  He is still an unlikely hero, who doesn’t look or act like a “proper” Viking should.  His best friend is the allergy-ridden Fishlegs, also not likely to be nominated most likely to succeed.  Snotlout is there, arrogant, but bullying and now Hiccup’s cousin with designs for the chieftainship.  He does not reconcile with Hiccup by the end of the book.  Hiccup would be left without a rival for the remainder of the series if he did.

Stoick and Hiccup’s relationship is still rocky because Stoick clings to the traditional Viking way, and Hiccup is “a talking fishbone,” but Gobber is no go-between, and the restoration of a loving father-son relationship takes back-seat to Hiccup’s unlikely heroism in the book’s plot.

How to Train Your Dragon is a boys’ book through and through.  You will find no Astrid or Ruffnut.  Sad, I know, but I’m a girl, and I still enjoyed it.

For fans of the movie, reading through the book and matching the bits of scrap fabric from which DreamWorks’ quilt is made is a fun challenge.  Many of the pieces are there, but they aren’t always what they seem.  It’s a brilliant adaptation in that way.  Moviemakers might be interested in the book for the same challenge.

Independently of the movie or beside it, the book is enjoyable.  It’s lighthearted in the main, lighter than the film, illustrated with childish drawings (some are better than others) and splattered with… ink? blood?  It’s humorous, though relies more on hyperbole, the unexpected, undergarments, and bodily functions than the sarcasm of the film.

The film retained the books’ main message: that you needn’t be the strongest or loudest or an adult to win friends and fight enemies, that cleverness and diplomacy and understanding can conquer monsters, that what seems heartless (dragons and people) may be only misunderstood.

I have my doubts about Cowell’s writing style.  It did not seem entirely cohesive.  Sometimes it seemed to be Hiccup’s first person voice, sometimes a close third, and sometimes an omniscient third, but I think that most readers may not even notice in the exciting plot, jokes, scattered drawings, plentiful capitals, and inkblots.

I appreciate the nods to Viking culture, though I do think that her representation is probably highly stereotyped.  Still, the presence of Thor, seers, Hiberno-Saxon designs, and Beowulf all add to the setting.

This is definitely a book to recommend to the boy who feels like he doesn’t fit in, the boy outside of the popular crowd, the boy who likes adventure, the boy of average boy humor, maybe even the boy who might be a reluctant reader (cinematic adaptation ought to help that, right?).

And yeah, the rest of us can enjoy it too.

****

Cowell, Cressida.  How To Train Your Dragon.  New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2003.

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