Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Weekly Book Review: His Majesty's Dragon

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His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik
Released: March 28, 2006
Genre: Historical Fantasy


"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."

[From Naomi Novik's official website.]


His Majesty's Dragon is the first in a series of books that ask a strange but intriguing question: what would the Napoleonic Wars have been like if both sides had access to an air force comprised of dragons and their riders? The reimagined battles that answer this question are thrilling, but the true strength of the novel lies in its response to a different line of inquiry springing from the main: how would humans and dragons coexist?

The answer is often "adorably."

There's really no other word for it. The relationship between our protagonists, Laurence and Temeraire, is that of two doting and devoted family members, sometimes brothers, sometimes parent and child (with both parties taking each role in turn). They protect each other, they teach each other, and they do all of this while upholding the virtues of politeness and honor as best they can in their war-torn Britain. Temeraire's genteel speech and mannerisms, paired with Laurence's absolute devotion to keeping a stiff upper lip, can only be called adorable.

Approximately this adorable.

This relationship does sometimes get a little too saccharine, and some readers might be more annoyed than charmed by Temeraire's cuddliness. There's tooth and claw ferocity to be found in the battle scenes, but these take up a relatively small section of the book. Those who prefer a bit more Smaug than Toothless in their dragons probably won't find what they're looking for here.

Novik's alternate Earth is an intricate creation, and much of the fun of the book is in discovering the many ways, both large and small, that dragons have redirected the course of history. Novik seems to have done her research, at least from my layman's point of view, and she manages to pile on the detail without interrupting the flow of the plot.

His Majesty's Dragon paces itself well, using plenty of smaller scenes to emphasize Laurence and Temeraire's growing camaraderie rather than relying on set pieces. Those that prefer nonstop action might find themselves disappointed, but readers who like their plot interspersed with character building moments should appreciate Novik's willingness to pause every once in a while. 

You should also read:

Dealing with Dragons

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