Main Characters: Charles, Jack and John. Turns out John is JRR Tolkien, Jack is CS Lewis and Charles is Charles Williams. Bert (who is HG Wells), Aven is Bert’s daughter, Aven/Artus who is a descendant of King Arthur, the Winter King who is also Mordred, Ordo Maas and the Cartographer of Lost Places.
Main Premise: John’s mentor is killed and John, Charles and Jack are left in care of The Imaginarium Geographica. While trying to escape they end up in the Archipelago where all the fictional and fabled locations are located, on various islands. Bert captains a ship keeping the trio plus Bug from the Winter King. The Winter King not only wants the book but wants the High King’s Ring which the group has.
Realizing the danger the book presents, they decide to have the book destroyed. They take it to the Tower where the Cartographer who created it is located. They travel up the Tower, causing some mayhem – which is important in later books – since the Tower is the Keep of Time and the closer to the bottom any door in the tower is, the further in the past the door opens to. A few changes to the past are made, the book is lost, and to escape they cause some damage to the tower. They do learn that Bug, the boy, is much more important then some runaway boy – he is a descendant of King Arthur.
The group goes to battle with the Winter King/Mordred (who wants control of the Archipelago), Charles closes Pandora’s Box (which is what the Winter King uses to create his shadow minions), Jack ends up causing Captain Nemo’s death and John takes Artus to the edge of the island so he can use the power of the ring to call the dragons from where ever they had disappeared to years ago.
Turns out that “the” ring of power isn’t the jewelry but a Stonehenge of sorts. The dragons come and the Winter King is thrown from the cliffs. The group then returns to Oxford with the book in hand.
Locations: Oxford and the (fictional) Archipelago of fabled places
Other Important Things to Remember Later: Every fictional story, author, historical or mythological person is fodder for this author. He likes having characters be revealed to be someone else. John is the Caretaker Principal of the book.
Jack likes Aven. Peter Pan named Jack. He loses his sould at one point, but gets it back. He feels very responsible for Captain Nemo’s death.
Bert was a Caretaker in the past (with Stellan, who dies in the beginning and JM Barrie). He seems to know the most about the book and the Archipelago.
Magwich was a spy to the Winter King.
Tummeler is a badger (think about the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe badger for the basis for this character). He ends up with a shield that turns out to be the lid to Pandora’s box.
Review: I waited a little to write this review because I struggled with it a little. I liked the idea (although I guess I liked the title much more then the plot) but it, like the 2 next ones that I have also already read, felt more like an exercise in “look at me and how well read I am” by the author then anything else. There may have been clues to the identities of our main characters, but the reveal at the end was a surprise to me. Maybe because I just really don’t know much about the personal lives of writers from 1917. Shame on me, I guess. Since I have read other reviews of this book that were like “well, who else could they be?” But anyway…
The basic plot goes something like this: there’s a murder in London that sparks some events between the three characters – John, Jack and Charles. They end up with a copy of the Imaginarium Geographica – an atlas of the Archipelago of Dreams. It’s really the place where mythological and fictional places and characters are real. And the places and characters that are real are often the creation of literature’s “greatest” works. They end up in a battle with the Winter King. Along the way they have a number of adventures and they learn that they are to be the new Caretakers of the Geographica. They meet the cartographer in the tower of time (which is really important for the next books) and they eventually get some help towards the end from some Dragons.
There are lots of little nods to the works of the “real life” John, Jack and Charles. And I will leave that alone for those who want to try to figure it out through those nods and the clues. There is a lot of mythology being explored – but not of it is very in depth. I would have found it much more enjoyable if I didn’t feel like Owens was trying to do WAY too much – it felt like he was trying to pull from every story out there and as a result the plot seemed… superficial. The descriptions are ok – the imagery was not, in my mind, worth some of the praise it is getting in other reviews. Partly, because the imagery really isn’t his – it’s that of other authors. I felt more like he was stealing then paying tribute.
The dialogue between the characters was excellent at points – and made me chuckle often. Then, there were plenty of times where I re-read two or three paragraphs to see who was saying what.
I expected dragons. And lots of them. Instead, we get Dragon Ships (which are cool – but I think they too get the short shrift). When we do see the Dragons – they are amazing. But, the Dragons aren’t used to their potential. And I was left wondering, why not!?!
We have the start of a universe where the rules aren’t very well set out. And, it takes reading the next book(s) to see that this is really more about time travel then dimension travel – or the travel between the world of the real and the imaginary. And, we are told there is a link between the worlds so that the great conflicts in the Archipelago are reflected by great conflict in the real world – makes sense given the timing (WWI) but how that tie exists, what is the impact? Who really knows since when the Winter King meets his end our Caretakers go back to a world where WWI is still raging. It seemed like a reach to me.
One of the best parts of the book was the illustrations. Owen, I thought, was better at the illustrations then the writing. I know it must have taken meticulous planning to plot out all the connections he comes up with between writers and the literary characters and places. It has a sort of J.K. Rowling like feel in that respect. However, compare the sized of her books and these. While Sorcerer’s Stone is short like this one, they each got bigger and bigger so that she could deal with the subject matter properly – and not short change anything – that’s sadly not the case here. I think had there been another 200 pages it would have been much better because the plot development and the character development would have been much better.
And that takes me to my last point. Character development. I am a bigger fan of character driven books. This was more plot driven. And sometimes that’s ok. But here, Owen tried to name drop with so many characters (again, the “look at me and all that I have read”) that none of them is particularly well developed. We are just sort of expected to take our Caretakers as good people. And we are expected to know all the character traits that make the real life counter-parts good people and writers and apply that. And, while I have read every work of 2 out of the 3 and a number of pieces of the 3rd, I don’t really know much about them personally so I felt too… out of the loop. And there were a number of times where I confused things about Jack versus John versus Charles. And I wish that hadn’t happened. More character development would have helped I think.
Some of the lesser characters are much more colorful and interesting, but we still don’t know much about them. Bert, Aven and others were great – but I would have loved to have had more info/background.
All in all, a good book. And I read #2 and #3 right away after finishing. But as the series moved I found it harder to be thrilled with it and would have preferred reading the 3rd or 4th installments in different series as I went along. And now, I am stressing while I decide what to do about #4 (you’ll understand more why if you read my reviews of book #2 and #3!)