In Search of Lost Dragons is an exquisitely illustrated faux travel diary of a reporter/illustrator’s adventure as he explores dragons. There are sketches, illustrations, and many sketched/drawn paraphernalia such as train tickets, posters of dragon shows, etc. While cleverly done, I felt a bit let down in the execution. It never felt real and was far too ‘manufactured’ to be disingenuous.
The story is roughly chronological but honestly I grew bored reading the text – it was difficult to follow due to a ‘cursive’ script and rarely had anything interesting to say. As well, a lot of the story was kind of disjointed – perhaps to emphasize breaks due to travel but instead feeling ‘off’ somehow. To really make this a magnificent book, we needed a much more fascinating ‘angle’ to the narrator; something to really make him distinct and pop. I was first inclined to blame the translation but I have a feeling this might be too minimalistic French for me. All the same, it should have had a Jules Verne adventure feel but somehow came across observational rather than inclusive to the reader.
That said, the drawings, illustrations, faux ephemera, etc. are all exquisite. The artist did an excellent job of creating ‘real’ and imaginative dragons around the world as well as how the world perceived them. It’s the type of book that you just sit back and enjoy slowly: deep black and white wood block type illustrations paired next to vivid, beautifully painted scenics of dragons in their habitats. Newspaper ads warning of cannibals (very cute!), penny dreadfuls, and posters from shows including Houdini’s Chengdu appearance in The Jaws of the Dragon!
Where the book let me down was in presentation. From the unreadable script font to the unrealistic travelogue, it’s little things – like someone doing a painting across only 1-1/4 page, leaving just enough for script or the perfect size for a fake ticket, for example. I just can’t see anyone successfully painting in the middle curve of a book binding. It was just too perfect and far too manufactured – and that took away the enjoyment for me. As well, there are so many mediums presented – charcoal to watercolor to pencil, that it also felt like the writer must have carried an entire art studio wherever he went. I didn’t buy it.
Due to issues reading the script (and because the art is so imaginative and enjoyable) I recommend getting the print version of In Serach of Lost Dragons. I think I would have enjoyed reading this more had I done so.
This would make a really nice gift for a fantasy or dragon fan. There is a lot to love in the graphics. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.