Sunday, February 22, 2009

His Majesty's Dragon - Naomi Novik

His Majesty's Dragon
Naomi Novik
Ballantine Books
Copyright: 2006

From the back of the book:

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors rise to Britain's defense by taking to the skies...not aboard aircraft but atop the mighty backs of fighting dragons.

When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Capt. Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future - and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarefied world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Termeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France's own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte's boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

This is an incredible book. I started reading it two days ago, intending to only read the first chapter before I went to bed. One chapter ended up being the first third of the book. Same thing last night as well, letting me finish the book this evening. His Majesty's Dragon is rather a quick read (at least in comparison with the books I've been reading recently), but that doesn't impair the story in the slightest.

Dragons are a popular (and long lasting) theme in fantasy, fiction and myth, ranging from the dragon in Beowulf to Tolkien's Smaug, to more recent stories such as the Pern books and the Aerie series by Mercedes Lackey. On first thought, when I glanced at the series I thought it would be something like the last of the above list, but I was completely wrong. It reminded me more of the part of the one Patrick O'Brien book I read last summer. I think it's set at about the same time so the similarity is not unexpected.

Where I found the former book to be jargon-heavy to the point where it interfered in the story for me, that was certainly not the case here. This is an original concept and well done. The fighting, for all it's done in the air, seems to resemble more the naval action of the period (although I'm no expert in the subject), and makes sense with the way the dragons are described.

For once, the hero character isn't a teen or one new-come to adult-hood, he's an older man swept from a desired and stable career into something completely new, making this a change from so many contemporary fantasy stories, and the maturity of the characters makes for variety.

Although the dragons reminded me, at least at first, of the Pern books, I soon found them to be completely different, able to speak aloud, for one thing. Although this seems to be a common dragon-trait in fantasy, I've only seen it in the evil dragons such as Glaurung, Smaug and Maur (from The Hero And The Crown, by Robin McKinley). It was also different to see the way the dragons had such different capabilities from each other, breed to breed and individually.

His Majesty's Dragon may be the first in the series, but the plot isn't left trailing off for the next book to resolve, although as I'm finding, there is plenty of story to be picked up in Throne Of Jade from the hints in this book.

Before I finished reading the book, I was wishing the author had included more of the information and history of the dragons, but there is a big chunk at the end of the book, in the form of excerpts from existing books (in the world of Temeraire) on the breeding and character of the dragons.

In terms of the story, there's a bit of everything, from battle, to society, to politics and beyond. The pacing seems to be well done, and this is a book where all the positive hype on LibraryThing and elsewhere seems to be correct.

So far, the books in the series are:
His Majesty's Dragon
Throne Of Jade
Black Powder War
Empire Of Ivory
Victory Of Eagles

Other reviews can be found at:
Books And Other Thoughts:The Extraordinary Temeraire
Libritouches: His Majesty's Dragon: Temeraire
Naomi Novik: Temeraire / His Majesty's Dragon
Strategist's Personal Library: His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novak
Cerebrate's Contemplations: His Majesty's Dragon
Confessions of a Bibliovore
Outside of a Dog: Kate Nepveu's Book Log: His Majesty's Dragon
Tamaranth's Non-Ephemera: Temeraire
ReadingAdventures: Temeraire (His Majesty's Dragon) by Naomi Novik


Jill said...

Great review! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I really must get to the next one soon.

Unknown said...

Thanks. I'm onto book three (and more than half way through). Given what you've said about the first one, I think you'll really like the next ones in the series.

Jill said...

I'm so glad to hear you're continuing to enjoy the series. I don't know why I tend to wait so long between books - I guess to draw the experience out a bit. I hate sitting around waiting for the new one to come out, and I guess I like knowing the next one is there, waiting for me. :-)


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