It’s a seven-book series by James A. Owen. I picked up the first book about four years ago because there was a dragon on the cover. I kept reading because it’s brilliant.
The Imaginarium Geographica is a book of maps, leading the way to places that are outside the knowledge of most of the Earth. These places are called the Archipelago, and there is a select group of Caretakers dedicated to protecting both the Geographica and the places it represents.
There are many stories about secret worlds within our own and the people who protect those worlds, but few can boast the depth of character and the worldbuilding that occurs in this series. It would have been easy to select Caretakers who were meant to stay invisible, people who may or may not have existed. Instead, Mr. Owen uses some of the greatest minds in human history as protagonists.
Shakespeare, whose solution to everything is the opposite of the title of this review, makes several appearances, along with a delightfully arrogant Leonardo da Vinci. HG Wells is there too, and Jules Verne, and JRR Tolkien. Nearly every character is someone I’ve heard of and admire, but Mr. Owen makes them feel so human I almost forget that they are historical figures, while at the same time preserving what we know of them in their real lives.
The series is littered with references to literature, pop culture, history, and mythology, noticeable enough to be amusing but not enough to distract from the plot.
And the plot is brilliant. Time travel, magic, Dragons (of course), and situations that in any other writer’s hands would seem ludicrous, but in this series make a weird sort of sense (Picture talking animals reorganizing Benjamin Franklin’s library. Picture it.). The characters develop both in the fictionalized portions of their lives and in the pieces of their lives recorded in history. We see part of CS Lewis’s conversion to Christianity, and Tolkien’s struggles with memories of war. The themes of the stories, if you care about reading close enough to find them, are great too. They talk about the necessity of choice, the possibility of redemption, and the fact that there is truth in stories even if the stories are made up.
All of this is accompanied by amazing illustrations, also produced by Mr. Owen.
The series is so vibrant, so hopeful, and so full of evidence that darkness cannot win, they’re the literary equivalent of an antidepressant. One that works, and only messes with your sleep schedule slightly. Or better yet, a large chocolate bar.
I found these books at a time of personal crossroads, and they influenced the choices I decided to make for my life. Even if you don’t have your own crossroads right now (lucky duck) I’d recommend reading them. They’re definitely worth it.
Edit: I realized my original title might have been read as a criticism of the series, though if you actually read the review you’d know that was incorrect, so I changed it.