Book Review: “How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse” by Cressida Cowell

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How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse
by Cressida Cowell

In Book 4 of How to Train Your Dragon, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III defies the orders of Stoick the Vast, who is both his father and tribal chieftain of the Hairy Hooligans, and sets out on a quest to save his best friend Fishlegs from a dragon’s deadly venom. All he needs is to burgle the Vegetable-That-No-One-Dares-Name from the chief of the Hysterics, a tribe of fanatically dangerous Vikings whose island is guarded by a colossal sea-dragon, and bring it back for Fishlegs to eat by 10 o’clock the next morning.

Even with the Sullen Sea frozen solid in the midst of the coldest winter in a hundred years, this is going to be tough to pull off. For one thing, the Vegetable-That-No-One-Dares-Name is probably a myth. Nobody really believes in potatoes, or in the faraway land of America from which they supposedly come. After all, the world is flat, right? If you sail too far west, you’ll fall off the edge, right? And besides all that, Norbert the Nutjob, the chief of the Hysterics, has a personal grudge against Hiccup over, oh, nothing big, just an ARROW IN THE BUTTOCK. It’s about to become an even bigger grudge when Hiccup, Toothless, a swashbuckling Bog-Burglar girl named Camicazi, and a one-eyed, saber-toothed, sleigh-driving dragon crash the Hysterics’ banquet on a mission to steal their most cherished vegetable. And they don’t have time to negotiate nicely, because the sea ice is breaking up and the terrible Doomfang seems eager to poke his scaly head into the business.

This is yet another highly entertaining installment in a series where laughs and thrills follow each other in rapid order. The passionate urgency of Hiccup’s quest, the swiftly closing window of time for him to complete it, and the ever more dangerous odds against his success or even survival, make it perhaps the most exciting Hiccup adventure yet. It’s an adventure decorated with mildly ribald touches (perfect for tickling a pre-teen’s funny bone), a touch of daffy divination (take note, Harry Potter fans), some reptiles with charming personalities (and some that are just plain creepy), and a well-deserved spanking (it was the Dark Ages). It’s quickly read, quirkily illustrated, and quaintly touching as it teaches its gentle lesson on the value of friends, good deeds, and the courage of small people.