The first book in the series is without a doubt a children’s novel. It is simple, short and humorous. Yet, as the series progresses, slowly, and almost imperceptibly at first, the books become just a little longer and a little more mature, creeping into the realm of middle grade. They stop being light, silly reads and become something darker, and more serious.
The change is noticeable in the gradual change in subject matter, from Viking training to rebellions, slavery, love and war. Power is a big theme that is discussed at length, specifically the balance of power and the ways in which it corrupts. Fate is another overarching theme that creates obstacles along the way. Hiccup must, against insurmountable odds, become the hero the Vikings and dragons need to save them all from destruction.
How to Train Your Dragon is the story of an unremarkable boy who becomes an exalted hero for “this is the story of becoming a Hero the Hard Way”. As Hiccup knows all too well, becoming a hero does not happen overnight, nor does it happen because one wills it to happen. Rather, becoming a hero has a lot to do with luck, perseverance, bravery and a strong moral compass. Hiccup is someone we can all relate to, and a reminder that a hero can be found in the most unlikely of places.
Each book is well-written, tightly plotted, and filled with non-stop action. Once you start reading, you won’t want to stop until you’ve finished the entire series. I love the fantasy world of Vikings and dragons that Cowell created and how each book further builds on the universe. You are told how the story ends from the very beginning – that the dragons disappear. In this way, Hiccup’s world of dragons is compatible with the world in which we live. The reason though, is only revealed at the end of the final book.
Having just finished the final book, I can happily say that the series ends in a way that is both satisfying and hopeful. I am looking forward to whatever Cressida Cowell writes next.
P.S. The movies diverge greatly from the books but they are also awesome! Here’s my review of the second one.