Monday, November 09, 2009

The other day, I finished reading The Shadow Dragons by James A. Owen. It's the latest in his series, Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica, which I love, despite the somwhat unwieldy series title.

The series focuses on the caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica, a book which contains maps to all the lands of fantasy and literature and myth which once existed side by side with our world, but have since vanished to another plane. The caretakers, who defend the borders between this other plane and our world, are drawn from the greatest artistic and academic minds throughout history. The current caretakers are J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams, all members of the Inklings, an early 20th literary group at Oxford university.

Each book tells a complete adventure, but together, they tell a continuing, ongoing story, each installment building on what came before. So I recommend starting at the beginning. Every time I finish a new book, I want to go back and reread the earlier volumes, so I can appreciate the foreshadowing and the history Owen is building in this series.

The Shadow Dragons, detailing yet another attempt by recurring villain The Shadow King to conquer both the realms of fantasy and our own world, represents something of a turning point for the series. A lot of the story threads set up in earlier volumes pay off here, and the series seems poised to head off in a new direction. Which is cool, because I prefer the sorts of series that grow and change as they go, as opposed to the "just another adventure" type of series.

Back in the 90s, James Owen published a comic called Starchild which dealt with similar themes, bringing together characters from different myths and folklore into one story. It was very well-written, and drawn in a very detailed, intricate style. I loved it, and was very sad when it ended due to economic reasons. So I was always going to pick up anything new by him, whether it was comics or prose. (And he does an illustration for each chapter of his books, so I still get to see his artwork.)

I particularly enjoy this series because its heroes are writers and artists and scholars. Lately, ever since the accident, I've been feeling pretty down because of the sense of powerlessness. If I were to ever be a hero, it wouldn't be because I'm a big, macho strong guy. So, as much as I like tough heroes like Batman or Superman or Indiana Jones, I probably gravitate more naturally to guys like Doctor Who or Sherlock Holmes or the caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica.

I also like a good, twisty plot, and Owen's books provide those in spades. And the more of his books you read, and you see how events in one book affect events in others, they become even more complex and twisty. Then, as if that weren't enough, there's time travel.

If I had one complaint about this series, it's that there always seems to be more of an emphasis on plot than character. We don't really get into the characters' heads that much. Even though decades have passed for the characters over the course of these first four novels, I can't really say that they've seemed to grow or change all that much. Having said that, though, it's not a problem that ever bothers me when I'm reading the books.

Owen has made a committment to having a new book come out every October, and so far he's been on time. So that gives me something to look forward to every fall. And every fall so far, the new book has lived up to my anticipation.

I'm sure the series will eventually reach a conclusion. (I think he's said between sequels and prequels, it'll be about 12 books in all.) Until that happens, we've got a bunch more Octobers to look forward to. And after that, I'll be looking forward to whatever James Owen does next.