Monday, January 18, 2010

Here, There Be Dragons

During the first World War one soldier escapes the battlefields of Europe only to enter the fray in the Archipelago of Dreams, a land where the fiction of our world is fact and the fact of our world is fiction.  Three Oxford Scholars: John, Jack, and Charles struggle to survive in a world beyond Avalon where there are not only elves, dwarves, trolls, and goblins, but characters like Nemo his Nautilus as well.  Even though they are strangers to the land they are entrusted with the protection of its most important book, the key to navigating the waters of the Archipelago, the Imaginarium Geographica

It's funny how the universe balances itself.  The book I read before this I picked up expecting a fantasy and got a historical fiction.  This time the summary's emphasis on WWI made me expect a historical fiction when what I got was a fantasy.  At least this book was consistent throughout.

Owen weaves a charming fantasy tale in this novel that takes all of our favorite stories and weaves them together into one narrative.  The legend of King Arthur is blended with Dickens characters and Greek Mythology.  I've seen re-tellings of Greek myths and Arthurian legends before, but it is rare to find a book that involves re-tellings of stories drawn from so many sources.  Some of the references even I didn't pick up on which means that I discovered some interesting facts from doing further research on allusions in the text.  He also plays with repeated narratives a bit and the nature of stories based in truth being distorted over time.  A lot of the narrative is predictable and there isn't much to think about besides the basic lessons on character you'd expect from a hero's quest type of story but not everything has to be weighted down with meaning.  Sometimes you just want to read something clever and fun, and this book certainly does that well.

The only criticism I have is that Owen comes to this novel from the graphic novel world and it's rather obvious.  The narrative is a bit clunky in the way that many song lyrics that sound great when sung look simplistic when read straight.  A lot of the narrative focused on dialogue and describing what was happening in a straightforward fashion and seemed almost like a transcription of a graphic novel.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I prefer a bit more subtlety and thoughtful asides.  Still this novel is great fun and I look forward to the others, which in this case I believe are already out and available at my library, lucky me!

One caution I feel compelled to make is that if you're of the type who doesn't Jasper Fforde novels and claims they're too clever and smug in their allusions, then you won't like this one either.  There are some times when Owen seems to be throwing a reference to something out just to be clever, but I'm okay with that. 

Here, There Be Dragons The Chronicle of the Imaginarium Geographica Book 1, James A. Owen ISBN: 9781416912279

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