I have spent the last couple of months looking at a coworkers recommendation for James A. Owen's Here, There Be Dragons. She loved it and raved about it. I was so excited.
Though, she did give away the big "twist."
So, I got it from the library. As you may have noticed it took me forever to read it.
Let's start there. Spoilers below!
I really wanted to love this book. I tried so so hard to love this book. I just couldn't quite manage it.
It wasn't a slow book, in terms of actually reading. Admittedly, I did get a bit busy so that didn't help any. But it felt a little like The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland did, in that I didn't want to read it in large doses. It felt like it should be read in short increments. The story was not, perhaps, as episodic as The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland but it wasn't one that I wanted to sit down and read a whole lot of.
The best thing about this book are the allusions to other books. I flat out shrieked when I found out that the guardian of Avalon was Charles Darnay. Shrieked. I was so excited. But that ended up being what I was reading the book for. I wanted to see the different references to other books. But after a while they grew less exciting and more predictable. Perhaps, if I hadn't had who the three main characters are ruined for me, I would have been more excited for the end.
Even then, I feel like the references to the work of the main three (at least Tolkien and Lewis, as I haven't read anything by Williams) are obvious and, at times, too much. Once again, maybe if I hadn't known who they were beforehand I would have been more excited.
All of this being said, I do think what Owen does is clever. The use of names similar to what the authors use in their works and the story parallels (Jack is totally Edmund) are very well done. I can only imagine the work that went into plotting it all out.
But that's what is best about this book, the references. Everything else is lacking a little. I tried to remind myself that it was a middle grade novel, and give allowances for that but I still felt like things weren't developed like they should have been. I wanted more about what it was like for Jack to lose his shadow. I understand that he had to be redeemed but I wanted a little more struggle. A little more of what that did to him. I didn't see the changes in him that the other characters did and I wanted to.
The other thing that bothered me was that I didn't like a single one of the characters. Not one. Except maybe Charles Darnay, because...well... he's Charles Darnay. But none of the mail characters. I couldn't stand them. John came off as the wounded bunny character. I would have liked Charles for his practicality but there wasn't enough of him. I started off with an inclination for Jack. I was all set to love him. But then Owen never fleshed him out. He became a type of character instead of a full character. None of them had any real sense of purpose or reason for their shift in direction.
Perhaps I need to read more middle grade. Maybe more books are like this, but I don't think that they are. I didn't feel this way about Black's Doll Bones when I read it. I think I need to read another middle grade High Fantasy to see if it can be pulled off.
Anyway, I give Here, There Be Dragons a rating of, Sort-of Epic.
I love what Owen was trying to be but I wanted the story and the characters to be fleshed out more.
Next I'm going to be picking up Laura Buzo's Love and Other Perishable Items. It sounded interesting and then it won a Morris honor so I'm even more intrigued. With any luck this won't take as long as the last...