This is the twelfth and last book in Cressida Cowell’s ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ series. Like its predecessors, it pulsates with excitement tempered by humour and compassion. Readers however young will soon guess that the hero, mild and appeasing young Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, is never really going to succumb to the numerous diabolical attempts on his life. Even so the situations he keeps finding himself in often seem to allow no escape and his enemies are indeed fearsome. These are described not just in print but in the zany, scratchy, black line illustrations, also supplied by the author, that frequently stretch wildly over a double page spread. These too strike the exact balance between having fun and conveying a genuine sense of darkness.
Writing and illustrating to a high order is demanding enough for one book. But composing twelve separate adventures since 2003, all equally captivating, is an astonishing achievement. This last story perhaps lingers a little too long over its repeated insistence on the importance of love and trust above everything else, but Cowell has earned the right to come on so emphatically with a final message she clearly feels strongly about. She also loves her dragons and only parts with them at the very last moment, guaranteeing them a safe existence for the rest of time but well away from prying human eyes. Before that, these mighty creatures share space with mainly boastful Viking warriors all of whom bear inventively comic names and, like the dragons, tend to be child-like both in their reasoning and in the way they can switch at lightning speed from one emotion to its opposite.
With the whole series already selling over seven million copies and with a second film in the offing following a successful first one, Cowell is extremely good news both for readers and for publishing. Readers who have yet to acquaint themselves with her extraordinary series should consider putting this right as soon as possible. They will be in for a rare treat.