Friday, January 13, 2012

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

(Book 1 in the Temeraire series)
Genre: fantasy-- alternate history
Pages: 356 (paperback)
Recommended for: fans of fantasy and historical fantasy, and most especially, dragons

Synopsis: 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 rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, 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.

My Take:

As a child, I was infamous for my obsession with dinosaurs.  As I got older, this fixation transformed into an unhealthy love for dragons, those most graceful, magnificent, and terrifyingly powerful draconian overlords of the sky.  While I love the Inheritance (Eragon) books and the appearances made by dragons in Harry Potter, the Temeraire has officially become my favorite literary dragon.

Will Laurence is a British navy officer with a gentleman-like disposition.  After his ship, the Reliant, captures a hatching dragon egg among the cargo of a French ship, Laurence quite accidentally becomes imprinted with the newborn dragon, whom he names Temeraire after a Royal Navy ship.  Thrust into the world of the aerial corps and the ranks of dragons, their captains, and the large crews who battle from dragonback, Laurence and Temeraire struggle to prove themselves among a class of soldiers quite different from the Navy, and whom are already prejudiced against them.  It cannot be said that this book is action-packed, per se, but what battles do rage between our British heroes and the French opposition, under an unseen Emperor Napoleon, are very well-written and definitely engaging.  Naomi Novik's writing style is wordy but refreshingly intelligent-- I felt like the dialogue was realistic to the time period, as were the characters' attitudes.  

The dragons themselves are fantastic.  Novik's portrayal of all the different species of dragons, from the mythical Chinese Imperials and Celestials to the enormous British Regal Coppers and Longwings-- a breed of dragons which only bond with female captains-- is very interesting and engaging.  It's incredibly cool to see some female dragon riders, too, despite the historical lack of involvement of women in military affairs in this era, and to learn of the history surrounding them and society's very tentative acceptance by them as warriors (most of the time they are forced to disguise their identity).  Laurence and Temeraire's relationship evolves so much and I liked seeing the bonds of affection and trust develop between them even as the plot twists in a way that, over and over again, threatens to separate the two of them against their will.  I completely recommend His Majesty's Dragon as well as its sequel, Throne of Jade, which I've just finished.

Premise: 5/5
Story/Plot: 4/5
Characters: 5/5
Overall Rating:

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