Book Review: How To Train Your Dragon

My boyfriend introduced me to How To Train Your Dragon, the animated fantasy film, and I loved it. We then watched the sequel, How To Train Your Dragon 2 (creative) and I loved it more. We’ve re-watched them several times. I didn’t even know there were books. So, at his suggestion, I read How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell.

Hmm.

Spoiler Warning: There will be some.

How To Train Your Dragon is the first in a series of twelve children’s books about Hiccup, the son of a Viking chief, as he overcomes great obstacles on his journey to become Heroic.

Visually, it’s a nice little book. It has childlike My Image [How To Train Your Dragon Book] handwriting and drawings throughout, so it’s perfect for Cowell’s target audience; the idea is that the book was genuinely  written by Hiccup – hence his illustrations and annotations – and she was just his Old Norse translator. A nice touch.

The descriptions are as vivid and not complicated – as you’d expect in a children’s book, and there are also some witty moments.

The key plot points are clearly identifiable:

  • Hiccup is a below average Viking boy who wants to achieve but struggles under the pressure of being the Chief’s son
  • Snoutlout is Hiccup’s cousin, eager for Hiccup to fail so he can become chief instead
  • Hiccup is concerned about not fulfilling his father’s Viking expectations
  • It is only when Berk is placed in danger, Hiccup’s usefulness and value is recognised

These are (no surprises here) “obvious” for an adult reader, but this the sort of good narrative structure a children’s book should have, so I wanted to point it out.

However, it is very different to the films. An enlightening comment, I know.

The characters are different – without seeing them frequently “onscreen” like you would in a film, I felt forced to rely on a few, infrequent small illustrations and their initial descriptions at the start of the book to remember who they are; it was hard to keep track of the long-winded Viking names.

My Image [How To Train Your Dragon 1]

Another striking difference between the book and the film is that in the film, Berk is an island scared of, and enraged by, dragons because they believe they are violent creatures that need to be destroyed. The community is only persuaded to think otherwise following Hiccup’s discovery of, and his blossoming friendship with, Toothless the Night Fury, one of the most legendary and fearful dragons in existence. However, in the book, Berk is an island that already believes that dragons can be, and should be, domesticated pets. It is only once the Viking boys in training are given the useless handbook How To Train Your Dragon, Hiccup must create his own, personalised, methods to tame his dragon Toothless.

 A second significant difference is that in the book, the dragons can talk. This creates a new layer of characterisation because they can communicate thoughts and feelings with each other, and their owners. This means that, instead of the smiling but silent Toothless from the film, he is whiny and always back-chatting. It’s very difficult to see him as the loveable, heart-warming, protective but powerful and incredibly rare Night Fury from the film – the Toothless I love.

I’m so clearly biased – sorry – and I preferred the films to the book. I can see exactly why kids would love this sort of book though: it’s funny, it’s adventurous, it’s easy to read and it’s imaginative.

I won’t read the rest of the series, but at least I now have a flavour of the writing which inspired two films I greatly enjoy.

How To Train Your Dragon 3 is in production and is due to be released in 2019.

– Judith

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Book Review: Intraterrestrial by Nicholas Conley

This is a book review for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Intraterrestrial is about Adam Helios, a bullied teenager who hears a voice claiming to come from the stars and fears he’s going mad. Following a terrible car crash, Adam is left seriously injured and his consciousness is abducted by the alien presence contacting him for months.

My Photo [Intraterrestrial].jpg

Intraterrestrial was decently written, although there were some frustrating uses of synonyms. As well as using the word ‘finger’, ‘appendages’ and ‘digits’ also get thrown around and this was just unnecessary. Synonyms can provide variation if you’re afraid of repetition, but sometimes the repetition of simple words is fine. No one says “I have hurt my appendages”.

My Photo [Appendages]
I am, of course, just poking fun at the situation.

Adam was a well-developed character; he felt very much like an ordinary kid – a sympathetic loser, if you will.

However, I wasn’t sure how to interpret Adam’s adopted status; the book makes it clear Adam was adopted as an orphan from India and Adam himself struggles at times to feel as if he belongs with his American parents. On the one hand, this is fair enough, and gives Adam some interesting background. On the other hand, the book also hints he may be abhuman or other-worldly in some way, and is thus contacted by aliens. Yet stressing Adam’s differences too much, and making Adam both “other” and Indian could be problematic for some.

I liked the open rebuttal of the “chosen one” stereotype and Adam’s genuine surprise that he is not The Chosen One; the way in which the expectations of Adam, and the reader, were challenged made it quite a witty scene.

I’m not a huge reader of science-fiction, so I preferred the chapters describing Adam’s mother, waiting for her son to recover in the hospital. These scenes helped provide some reality, in the midst of Adam’s alien experiences, and were easier to picture and understand.

I also couldn’t work out who Conley’s target audience is.

Concepts such as imagination-powered aliens, the importance of creativity, and Adam discovering more about his special identity, seem as if they would be best suited in a novel for children. Yet some the book contained explicit swear-words and gory, bloody details, suggesting Conley had an older audience in mind.

I did like the idea of being drawn into an alternative world inspired by your own mind – for example, the alternative world of Labyrinth is taken from Sarah’s childhood toys and stories – but I found the execution of this in Intraterrestrial slightly too abstract. I have a pretty active imagination, but I really struggled to visualise the aliens and worlds I was being told to imagine.

On a more positive note, Intraterrestrial has a proper ending! I’ll explain.

I find that often, especially in books sent for review, the narrative ends with a cliffhanger designed to make you buy their trilogy. Sometimes this is done well and other times, it isn’t. However, Conley doesn’t do this; instead he wraps up his story well by the end of the book and this was great to see.

Ultimately, I thought Intraterrestrial was okay, but probably not the book for me. If you’re a die-hard science-fiction fan though, you might want to consider giving this a go.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

Intraterrestrial is available to buy as a paperback or an e-book from Amazon UK or Amazon.com.

– Judith

 

Book Review: Coot Club

Coot Club is the fifth novel in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome. There are 12 books in the series in total.

The book is about Dick and Dorothea, who visit the Norfolk Broads during the Easter holidays, keen to learn how to sail. They meet a new group of friends – members of the eponymous Coot Club – and explore the North and South Broads together.

The start of Coot Club was bonkers but fun. Likewise, the ending was funny and enjoyable. However, the parts in between were not as entertaining.

Lots of new characters are introduced – too many, I think – as well as the names of the boats they each sail. This made it incredibly difficult to remember who was who and which boat was which. These new characters didn’t seem to be developed in any detail – excluding Tom, who was suitably independently-minded and witty and William the pug, who was arguably the most characterised of the entire cast.

Furthermore, Port and Starboard, the girl twins with an aptitude for sailing – hence the nicknames – felt like a weaker version of Nancy and Peggy from the previous books.

I think part of my issue with Coot Club was having only just become acclimatised to the “original” characters (John, Susan, Titty, Roger, Nancy, Peggy, Dick and Dorothea) and the original Lake District setting, Ransome introduces new characters, in a new setting, with a new story. And they say people don’t like change…

Given the title, Coot Club not only involves a lot of sailing but bird-watching too – especially of coots.  I liked the variety of birds identified and described by Dick; I’m trying to spot and remember types of British birds myself at the minute and this reinforced some in my memory.

My Photo [Coot Club 2]
‘Coots can be found in large numbers, along numerous waterways up and down the country’. Image via Canal River Trust

Coot Club took me a lot longer to enjoy, and it eventually became a struggle to read. This is such a shame because I’ve enjoyed reading the series so far. Oh well, I can’t have everything.

– Judith