Review and Preview: ‘How to Train Your Dragon: The Serpent’s Heir’
How to Train Your Dragon: The Serpent’s Heir
Writers: Dean DeBlois and Richard Hamilton
Artist: Doug Wheatley
Colorist: Wes Dzioba
Cover artist: Pierre-Olivier Vincent
Dark Horse, $10.99
Age 10 up.
A preview of the graphic novel follows this review.
Whenever I review a book that’s connected to a movie or other media property, the first question is “Can you enjoy it without having seen the movie?” In the case of How to Train Your Dragon: The Serpent’s Heir, I’d answer with a qualified “yes.” Not having seen the movies, I felt like I was plunged into an unfamiliar world without a guidebook. On the other hand, it’s a magical world in which people fly on dragons, which made me want to know more. Furthermore, after a few pages of setup, the rest of the story is independent of whatever happened in the movies.
The graphic novel opens just after the end of the movie How to Train Your Dragon 2. Hiccup, the lead character, has led his people to victory in some sort of war, but his homeland has sustained considerable damage and not all his compatriots accept him as their leader. Still, he has a loyal if motley band of friends, and, as his mother reminds him, his late father’s spirit as well. Also—and this is a considerable advantage—his dragon Toothless is now the alpha dragon and commands respect from all the other dragons.
With those bits of business taken care of, the graphic novel plunges into the new story pretty quickly. A visitor from the island kingdom of Nepenthe arrives to ask for Hiccup’s help: Strange tremors are shaking the island, and he fears they are being caused by some sort of evil creatures. Hiccup and his team head out to the island, where they find an idyllic land with beautiful hot springs and a ruler, King Mik, who is more interested in sitting on the beach playing his guitar than doing any actual leading. But all is not as it seems, and the dragon riders quickly find themselves drugged, imprisoned, and facing a man who wants to become a dragon himself. A rollicking fight scene ensues, at the end of which the cause of the island’s environmental problem becomes clear (spoiler: it involves dragons!) and Hiccup and Toothless resolve it through sheer awesomeness. At the end, the islanders begin to adjust to their new normal, with a king who is finally doing his job.
The plot of the book is pretty straightforward, but it unfolds in a fairly leisurely way, with the creators taking time just have fun with the world of the story—as when the dragon riders escort the visitors back to their island, encountering sea dragons along the way. The cast of humans and dragons is varied and interesting. It may take newcomers a little longer to get to know them all, but once they do, there’s a lot to enjoy in this richly imagined world.
There’s also a theme that runs through the story, the theme of change: As it opens, Hiccup and his fellow Vikings are adjusting to their new reality (and Hiccup is learning to be the new chief), and as it ends, a parallel change is taking place on the island of Nepenthe, with King Mik finally assuming his duties and starting the work of re-establishing his society in a greatly changed environment. The book ends with Hiccup reflecting on change, telling his people that things won’t go back to the way they were, but different can be better, and resolving to be a better leader himself.
The art is smooth in a commercial sort of way, easy to follow even on complex pages. The hardest part for me, as a newcomer, was getting used to the look of the dragons; once I adjusted to that, the rest was straightforward.
This richly imagined graphic novel is a real treat for fans of the How to Train Your Dragon movies, and it’s also a great read for anyone who loves the idea of flying off on a dragon to explore new lands and experience new adventures.
About Brigid Alverson
Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good E-Reader.com. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.
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