BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Three strangers are brought together by an unusual murder. What they find sends them on an incredible journey to save the world.
PROS: A fun adventure aimed at young adult readers, lots of allusions and references to the fantasy genre, a breeze to read.
CONS: Plot driven story, paper thin characters.
BOTTOM LINE: Here, There Be Dragons is a terrific first novel by James A. Owen. Anyone who likes earlier works of fantasy will have a field day decoding the allusions liberally sprinkled throughout the book. This is also a great novel to introduce the younger readers to the world of fantasy.
On a rainy night during World War I, three strangers, Jack, John and Charles have all arranged, for different reasons and unbeknownst to each other, to meet Professor Sigurdsson at his home in London. Upon their arrival, they find the Professor has been murdered in a most unusual manner and the perpetrators appear to be after them. Fleeing from the Professor’s house with the magical book, the Imaginarium Geographica, they gain the help of Bert, who claims his ship, the Indigo Dragon, can take them to the lands listed in the Geographica. They agree to go to discover just what the Geographica is, why John is now the Caretaker Principia for it, and who wants it enough to commit murder. What follows is a rousing adventure through many different lands, with most be disguised or camouflaged versions of early fantasy books.
Here, There Be Dragons is written for the younger reader, I’d say 8 years old from a writing standpoint, maybe 10 or older content-wise (there is a murder and a significant death). As such, the story is told in a straight forward manner, with descriptions used to give the sense of things and not much else. The story also moves from encounter to encounter, never bogging down for any particular event. This serves to keep the reader’s attention on the story and gives the sense that the main characters are moving forward on their quest. Couple this with the book clocking in at just over 300 pages of large-ish type, and the story can be read very quickly and should help the younger readers stay interested in the story.
The encounters themselves are quite fun. A partial list of interesting characters follows: Captain Nemo, talking animals with steam-powered cars, Lewis Carol-type talking Cards, a Tower Of Time, goblins, Knights, Queens, Dragons and a fight to the finish with the villain. Older readers should enjoy the fantasy allusions littered throughout the story, some are obvious, some less so (the identity of the Cartographer Of Lost Places). In fact, Here, There Be Dragons has a very Silverlock feel to it, only aimed at the younger crowd. The reason for all these allusions becomes very clear at the end of the story when the complete identities of the main characters, and Bert, are revealed. In fact, Here, There Be Dragons can be viewed as a fictional, meta-story about earlier works of fantasy. James A. Owen has took a risk with writing a book of this nature, and it’s one that mostly pays off.
The only negatives I had with the book are because of the nature of the intended audience. Writing for younger readers is a good thing, especially when writing interesting stories such as this. However, allowances must be made for the intended age range which leads to some negatives for older readers. First, this is a very plot driven story. The main characters get in and out of bad spots regularly, and not always because of their own actions. There are other things that save them time and again because the plot demands the characters survive until the end. This is alright when you’re 8, not so much when you’re an adult. Second, because the story is so short, the time and space needed to develop the characters isn’t here. In fact, none of the characters are developed much at, instead, Owen relies on stereotypes to clue us in on the roles of each character. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the intended audience, but may give older readers pause. Neither of these issues, however, sink the story. It’s still a great read for all ages.
Here, There Be Dragons is a terrific read for readers of all ages, and should appeal especially to readers of fantasy in general.