02 January 2015

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain 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.

Like many, I am a huge fan of dragon stories, but unlike most, I have a hard time finding ones that fully satisfy me.  In a phrase, this book was a first-class fantasy.  It fully satiated my hunger for a hardy fantasy and doesn't have pages upon pages of fluffy world building, but clear, succinct descriptions of what you need to know.  Laurence's maturity is a welcome relief from the tiresome coming-of-age stories that define YA novels, and with the swift plot and thrilling adventure, the Temeraire series is on its way to joining the ranks of my favorite fantasy series.

Truly, if Jane Austen had had less of a mind for romance and more for battle dragons, the result might have been something like His Majesty's Dragon.  Which means there's a lot of gentlemanly manners and more than a few passages of enthusiastic detail about dragons and battle maneuvers.  And more than once, I had the thought that Laurence smacked of Mr. Darcy with his inclination to keep his silence and yet deliver criticism where necessary, and always immensely generous to those loyal to him and unfailingly loyal to his dragon.

I adored the world, the fully realized world of a talented storyteller as it was.  Remarkably clever to set it in a time such as this, and have the Napoleonic Wars as a backdrop.  I loved the political intrigue and evaluation of battle strategies, though some may see that as boring and slow.  For me, it was a way to understand what they were up against, and I admired Naomi Novik's dedication and enthusiasm for the story to have such detail about it.

Perhaps above all, my favorite bit of the story was Will Laurence himself.  His narration was not flowery with description after description and somehow the more "telling" and less "showing" aspect worked where normally I would have chalked it up to amateur writing.  I liked how I could always tell what was going on (unlike in most high fantasies that thrill on vagueness and mystery).  I also loved Laurence as a character, how he was straight as an arrow and clever and not so stiff and formal that he couldn't have a good time.

His Majesty's Dragon is a welcome addition to my shelves.  I enjoyed every moment of it and couldn't get myself to put it down.  I am so glad that it's such a long series.  For any and all dragon fans, especially fans who want something a little more mature than what YA has to offer, this is one to investigate.

Book Info
  • pages - mass market paperback, 353
  • published - March 2006
  • publisher - Del Ray
  • genre - fantasy/historical fiction
  • rating - 5/5
  • received via - library :)
  • series - Téméraire
    • His Majesty's Dragon
    • Throne of Jade
    • Black Powder War
    • Empire of Ivory
    • Victory of Eagles
    • Tongues of Serpents
    • Crucible of Gold
    • Blood of Tyrants
    • League of Dragons