I've been on board James A. Owen's Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series ever since Book 1, Here, There Be Dragons came out. I've always enjoyed Owen's cavalier restructuring of myths and established stories while paying tribute. Having said that, Book 4, The Shadow Dragons, was a strange reading experience for me. Why? I'll explain soon enough.
World War II has been raging for three years, but a more terrible evil is just over the horizon. The last stones are falling from the Keep of Time, and the Imperial Cartological Society, led by Richard Burton, has collected doors and is building a new tower at the request of an old enemy: the Winter King's shadow. He has a terrible weapon -- the Spear of Destiny -- that can be used to command the shadows of anyone it touches.
The Shadow King uses the Spear of Destiny to enlist an unstoppable army of Dragon shadows. And after the Archipelago falls, the Shadow King intends to use the turmoil of World War II to take over both worlds.
All the legendary Caretakers, past and present, come together to save two worlds, and their only hope lies with a small group of companions who are on the quest for the broken sword Caliburn: the Grail Child, Rose Dyson; her clockwork companion, the owl Archie; a dead professor of ancient literature; and the mythical knight Don Quixote.
That's the story for this one, in it's least spoilerish and complicated form. It's huge, epic, and in other hands might collapse under its sheer magnitude. Even Owen gives this volume the slowest start in the series thus far. This book is the hardest to get into, though not because of poor writing. Owen takes his time to set things up for the biggest climax in the entire Imaginarium Geographica, and if you've read Books 1-3, you know that's saying something. Owen still displays a formidable talent in bringing an incredibly detailed saga to life, with more than a few laughter-inducing moments for the more well-read portion of his crowd. I think my favorite of these is at the end, with a great gag involving the Master himself, Edgar Allen Poe. While the opening is not my favorite, the closing, with all its hints at future volumes to come, makes this entry one of the strongest yet. Bring on Book 5: The Dragon's Apprentice.
My rating: 9/10
Coming Soon: Well, it's not decided yet, but I can guess it'll be Before They Are Hanged.