HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON
Naomi Novik

 


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Book One of the Temeraire Series
Del Rey, March 2006
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Historical Fantasy. The Napoleonic Wars

The English ship Reliant under Captain William Laurence captures the French frigate Amitié carrying a true prize. The Amitié is bringing back a dragon’s egg from China, the premiere dragon-breeders of the world.

Napoleon’s Armée de l'Air, preparing to invade England, has the English Aerial Corps at a disadvantage because the English have fewer dragons than the French. A new dragon would be a valuable addition to their fighting forces. The snag is, someone on board ship has to harness the dragonet as soon as it hatches, and once that man is matched to the dragon, he must leave his proud place in the King’s Navy to become a member of the socially unacceptable Aerial Corps. Captain Laurence, son of Lord Allendale, suddenly finds himself an outcast.

But how can he mind when he finds himself paired with Temeraire, an affectionate dragon who loves to be read to and can turn on a penny in spite of his huge wing span? Laurence’s understanding of battle tactics is valuable, too. The difficult part is getting used to a corps with different social values than he grew up with. And, of course, facing invasion by a force vastly outnumbering their own.

When we hear about dragons paired with humans, naturally we think of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books. Don’t. The dragons of author Naomi Novik are entirely their own selves. Their personalities, their interactions with each other and with humans are unique and character driven, in no way derivative. Each breed has identifying traits, carefully thought out and true to their circumstances. Be sure to read Novik’s appendix about dragon history and breeding – it is hilarious.

HIS MAJESTY’S DRAGON is a skillful blend of history and fantasy. Napoleon really did consider an aerial invasion of England, but hot-air balloons were too vulnerable and couldn’t carry enough passengers. Novik has made an attempt to portray the insular, empire-building mentality of the European powers of the time, as realistically as possible without alienating readers. Above all, she has woven a longstanding dragon presence into the culture and explored the effect it might have had on that world.

There is an involuntary word-of-mouth campaign about the Temeraire books. People read them and enthuse about them to their friends. That’s how I found out about them, and now I’m passing the word on to you. I gave copies of HIS MAJESTY’S DRAGON as gifts, and I bought the next two of the series: THRONE OF JADE and BLACK POWDER WAR. According to Naomi Novik’s website, she already knows the plots for three more. You don’t have to be a dragon lover to enjoy HIS MAJESTY’S DRAGON. Its appeal is strong enough to win over readers with many tastes.

July 2006

[Sep 23, 2006 Note: The Hollywood Reporter reports that Peter Jackson has optioned the Temeraire series.]

 

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