Book Review: “How to Speak Dragonese” by Cressida Cowell

Yup, I didn’t enjoy the last book very much but I persevered through to the next one. In the third book in the series we’re back on the pirate style viking lessons, this time with trying to figure out how to board an enemy ship with the game of having to use the boat the students made themselves in order to steal a helmet. The idea is that they’ll get a helmet from some poor traveler in a one sided game of capture the flag.

“The Hopeful Puffin was more of a floating accident than an actual boat.

She had been built by Hiccup and Fishlegs in Shipbuilding lessons, and they were both hopeless at woodwork. Something kept on going wrong with the design and instead of being long and thin like a Viking ship should be, she had ended up fat and almost completely round. Her mast was too long and leaned lopsidedly to the left, so that in a strong wind she went round in circles.

She also had a leak.”

Hiccup and Fishlegs end up lost from the rest of the group and end up accidentally boarding a Roman ship. Through a series of events Hiccup overhears a plan to pit the Hooligans against the Bob-Burglars (another tribe). And while I hadn’t previously taken too much notice in how characters were described, despite Fishlegs and Snotlout, this is when in the series I learned physical appearance plays a key part in the way Hiccup describes a person, almost always in a negative way. In this case it’s the Roman Consul.

“One of these men was very, very fat. So fat, that parts of his stomach were dripping over the edge of the couch and were being held up by a small slave.”

This character isn’t even given a name, he’s just called “The Fat Roman” or “The Fat Consul” and he spends his entire time eating dragons.

“The poor creatures were still alive and were wriggling but unable to escape from the honey that gummed up their wing. Hiccup could hear their pathetic cries for help as the fat fingers picked them up to gobble them down.”

And yes he does have a counter part who for most of the book is only called “The Thin Prefect”, or at least until chapter 10.

This book is also the first time we get a female character. (Astrid is sadly only a character in the movies) She appears in chapter 11 and her name is Camicazi.

“Standing in the middle of the room was a small girl with wild blonde hair and a ferocious expression.”

She’s an interesting character full of surprises and I do like her a lot. But she also feels like a girl character who is purposefully meant to not be like other girls. Though she is from the Bob-Burglars tribe which is apparently a women’s only tribe and the bitter rivals of the Hooligans. She also just happens to be their heir.

It also introduces another character named based on how the look that I found very cringy. It makes me wonder how in this world Vikings are named. Are they named unfortunately by their parents and then grow into their names or are they renamed when they grow up? Was Hiccup known for being a super hiccup-y baby before he was born and that’s why he was given that name? He doesn’t seem to have hiccups throughout the book.

“Big-Boobied Bertha stomped on board, her beard bristling. Fists like sledgehammers, ears like cauliflowers, she had once stunned a stag with the blow of her mighty bosoms, and many a smaller animal had suffocated in their stern depths. She gave Baggybum the Beerbelly an arrogant shove out of the way and stood in front of Stoick with her hands on her hips.”

The book does however have a delightful line, (they do tend to wrap up rather nicely by the time you get to the epilogue which is where adult Hiccup tends to give his two cents about his preteen adventures and how they shaped him.)

“However small we are, we should always fight for what we believe to be right. And I don’t mean fight with the power of our fists or the power of our swords…I mean the power of our brains and our thoughts and our dreams.”

While there is a good amount of positive messages in the book the character naming and describing based on whatever their perceived negative feature enforces stereotypes and seems to encourage name calling in an immature way that prickled keeping me from enjoying the good things I did find in the book. Lessons like listen to kids, follow your heart and help others when you can gets drowned out. The Uglies series did something similar but as the story continues its shown that it’s a bad thing. This lesson or realization is never shown in the How to Train Your Dragon series.

It does also include an explanation to learn how to speak it’s particular brand of Dragon. Which I’m sure is quite fun for kids. I always loved having some secret language or code.

But hey maybe the series grows a bit as the kids reading it grow, the way Harry Potter did. There’s still about 4 more books for me to get through before I fully judge it.

Do you like books with language dictionaries in the back? Have you tried to learn the language from these?

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