Man, I’ve had this one on the backburner for a while. Well, better late than never.
So we return to the Narnia series. A classic fantasy that most people are familiar with, but only as far as the first book or two (not the actual second book, but the second book that focuses on the characters from the first; sorry, Horse and his Boy, I still love you). I didn’t even realize Narnia went beyond Prince Caspian until I ran into this one. So, is Voyage of the Dawntreader worth the read?
Eh, kind of. This is the book where the Narnia fatigue really started to settle in for me. Which is a shame, because this should have been the best book in the series! Alas, it’s potential was missed. Still, it’s a decently fun children’s fantasy adventure book.
Our youngest two heroes, Lucy and Edmund Pevensie, are staying with their obnoxious cousin Eustice for a time. During their stay, the three are pulled through a painting into the ocean of Narnia, where they’re rescued by their old friend Prince Caspian and his ship, the Dawntreader. Now our heroes must voyage across the great sea and participate in all sorts of wild adventures in order to return home once again.
The basic structure of this book is awesome. Each chapter, our heroes make land on a strange island with even stranger problems. Something happens to pull our heroes in, they need to find a way to fix everything, they do so, then sail away a little wiser and more prepared for their next journey. It’s a classic high-seas adventure plot! It should have been awesome!
Each situation is completely unique, fun, and interesting! One island, a member of the party is turned into a dragon! On another, they have to deal with invisible people and a wizard! There’s one where they straight-up have a run-in with their worst nightmares! This could’ve been the coolest fantasy adventure…
…if not for Aslan.
Literally every single conflict in this book is just resolved by Aslan showing up and doing a thing. Our heroes never actually do anything! They reach an island, get into trouble, beg for Aslan to save them, then Aslan saves them and they move on. Rinse and repeat until you reach the last page. It sucks away all the tension and intrigue from every single conflict of the book and makes the whole thing completely lifeless and boring to read! Why would I ever get invested in anything when I know that Lion-Jesus is gonna show up and fix everything for free?
Because none of our heroes need to solve a single problem for themselves, none of them have any room to grow in any meaningful or interesting ways. The only character with any semblance of an arc is Eustice! Everyone else is just kinda… there. Doing things to make the ship move so that they can get to the next location so they can witness Aslan perform yet another miracle.
I dunno. Maybe I’m just a jerk who wants every character to suffer excruciating agony.
Voyage of the Dawntreader is a pretty disappointing book. It has some great ideas, but the complete lack of tension and our characters’ absence of agency deflates it all. Kids probably won’t mind, but if you’re an older reader looking for something a bit more emotionally engaging, you’ll probably have to look elsewhere.
How many more of these things are there? I swear, Narnia feels like it’s simultaneously the longest and shortest fantasy series I’ve ever reviewed.