Friday, March 28, 2008

James A. Owen

Here There Be Dragons
by James A. Owen
Recommended Age: Age: 13+

The author of the Mythworld novels and creator of the Starchild graphic novels both wrote and illustrated this book, the first in "The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica." The series title refers to a unique map to an archipelago of islands, outside the normal space of our world, containing all the wonderlands and fairy-tale kingdoms known to mankind. This sacred atlas to a world in which fantasy becomes reality and myth becomes fact, must of course be protected. Traditionally it is protected by three men at a time, including most importantly a scholar who can read many ancient tongues.

The map's old caretakers are about to pass away, and so they prepare three new young men to take over their roles: reasonable, realistic Charles; boyishly impetuous Jack; and the serious, scholarly, war-haunted John, who fears he is not up to the task. Together they sail into incredible peril, as the evil Winter King wants to take the map and use it to bring all the lands on the map into shadow. Some have already fallen, erased as it were from existence, its people transformed into an army of deathless shadows that can inflict unspeakable damage - spiritual damage, even - on their enemies.

In their adventures, the three young men visit Avalon, meet a Noah-type character and Captain Nemo, encounter a playing-card parliament out of Alice in Wonderland, and befriend talking animals. They pay a bizarre but important visit to the Cartographer in his tower, endure vile treachery, and sail to the end of the world for a final stand against the Winter King. And if you find some of their adventures and traveling companions familiar, you may not be very surprised when the three young caretakers' identities are finally revealed.

I have been interested before in books about map-related magic. And I have also been disappointed in them before. Remember The Secret Atlas (shudder)? So I suppose I shouldn't be too upset by how far this book fell below my expectations. It wasn't, after all, a really bad book. In fact, it is quite a lively adventure, with some charming characters and a positive, uplifting tone overall.

If you like the work of certain authors whom I can't name without giving up the final surprise of the book (if you haven't guessed by then), you may also like this book. If, however, you are sometimes irritated when some of those authors' writings veer from pure entertainment into moral instruction or some type of religious allegory, you may also grow slightly irritated with this book. Plus, I hoped the main characters would grow a little more interesting. But even so, there was plenty of interest in the events swirling around them to keep the pages turning, and even perhaps to embark with them on their second journey: The Search for the Red Dragon.

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