Ian Shone’s latest book reviews are two titles in a new series from Osprey called Osprey Adventures
Dragonslayers, by Joseph A. McCullough
Jason and the Argonauts, by Neil Smith
Here we take a brief detour from historical fiction into the neighbouring territory of myth and legend with these
two slim children’s volumes from Osprey Adventures. That is not to say that the appeal is strictly limited to children, however, since anyone with an eye for good design should appreciate just how well these books are put together.
Both books follow a similar format as far as presentation goes. Both are lavishly illustrated with photographs of ancient artworks depicting their mythological subjects, from sculptures to woodcuts to stained glass windows. The photographs are supplemented throughout by original art, and in the case of Jason and the Argonauts the standard is especially high. These ethereally beautiful paintings by José Daniel Cabrera Peña cleverly employ light and perspective to achieve some startling effects, and this volume would be worth buying for that alone.
As far as content goes, the two books necessarily differ in approach. Here Dragonslayers has the upper hand, as it gives a broad overview of dragonslayer myths from all over the world, from Siegfried to St George to the Song of Hiawatha. Some of the stories are unfamiliar to all but the serious student of folklore, and it is great to see figures like Dobrynya Nikitich given equal footing with Beowulf and John Lambton. The standard of the original artwork comes nowhere near to that of the other book (it looks just a little bit ‘Games Workshop’ in comparison), but this scarcely detracts from the whole. The little snapshots of various legends make it a great book to dip in and out of. Jason and the Argonauts is, on the other hand, a straightforward retelling of the familiar legend, and thus lends itself more to a single sitting.
While these books are certainly aimed at children, they would be an attractive prospect on any bookshelf, and I can see them appealing particularly to comic book fans. They are also pleasingly inexpensive for what they are, and would make a great birthday present or stocking filler for your nieces and nephews. Strongly recommended.