My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What I love most about these books by Cressida is the power of the moral in them, the poetry of the language, and the spark of life and wit in the characters. This one is no exception. We find such strong moral themes, again, with dark events so daring in a children’s book. This is truly an epic deeper than probably even the film sequel can match, just because of the huge history created by a series of many characters’ and ancestors’ histories. Moral power cropping up sentence after sentence, especially at the beginning, and the Prologue, where the theme of the testing of a Hero first appears. It’s not easy to be a Hero, and a true one is created by challenge and hardship, like a sword in the smith — a hotter fire could either make or break a sword, or a Hero. It’s a complicated moral complexity that runs rich in this, and many, of her books.
The enduring theme of mercy is tested — does Hiccup save Snotlout from the dragons, or does he leave this bully and traitor to a fate he deserves? Maybe he has changed, or maybe he should save a human being from danger no matter if he is on your side or not. The moral complexity continues, in Cressida showing us how even the motives of the vicious Dragon Rebellion can be understood. Is it right for the humans to extinguish the dragons to save their own race? Just as the dragons wish to eradicate the humans to preserve the dragon extinction they foresee with the evil inherent in humanity? Cressida points out how being a Hero, being that great Leader isn’t something to desire lightly. In fact, the truly mature and brave should fear the role. Because Kings and Heroes are the ones to take both the guilt and responsibility that such leadership entails. Hiccup does not want to be a King, because he finally sees the true greatness of courage it requires, and yet he knows he must seize that destiny, because it is better to take that guilt and pain to keep evil men away from that power.
*mild spoilers begin*
A parting word must be said for Snotlout, for his arc is truly breathtaking. From the old kid days of throwing Hiccup’s face into the sand, calling him names, we get a revelation from him that culminates and explains all his motives those years ago til now, and how he became the villain he is today, and his reasons are as human as any other man’s, and we come away only sympathetic to what he has become. The maturity in dealing with Snotlout’s actions is beautiful, and the way Hiccup acts in regards to him is truly worthy of a King. Forgiveness, giving second and third chances, giving someone love so that their hatred gives them no satisfaction… it’s all wrapped in a brilliant package steeped with the history of eleven books spanning the childhoods of these characters.
(I can’t forget to mention the Toothless twist. The humblest receive the greatest reward, and all Hiccups own the greatest dragon of them all. And the new dragon, Hogfly, totally stole the show.)
*mild spoilers end*
This is a story as moving as any proper dramatic narrative, and it’s one worthy of admiration for the characters and the actions that define a true Hero.