Title: His Majesty’s Dragon
Author: Naomi Novik
Publisher: Del Rey, 2006
Series: Temeraire, book 1
THE BOOK: Will Laurence is the Captain of a British frigate fighting Napoleon’s French Navy in the Mediterranean. He captures a French ship that happens to be carrying an unhatched dragon egg. It turns out that in Novik’s alternative world, dragons are used by the military to fight aerial battles. Dragon’s are rare, however and greatly prized by both the French and English. When the egg hatches before Laurence can get it to port, he ends up bonding with the dragon. This means that he will have to give up his career with the Navy and train to be a dragon handler, which he willingly does as he and his dragon Temeraire become friends. The rest of the book focuses on the training and first battles of Laurence and Temeraire.
MY TAKE: This book works for two reason. The first is the original and fun worldbuilding that Novik accomplishes with her alternate history version of the Napoleonic era. And the second is the marvelous characters of Laurence and his dragon Temeraire. There are plenty of “boy and his dragon” adventures, but what if it were not a pubescent boy who found a dragon, but a fully grown man? It’s a lovely twist, and we still get a small amount of coming-of-age goodness, as Temeraire is extraordinarily intelligent, but still emotionally maturing. Laurence, of course, also has adjustments to make, struggling to find his place in the new Aerial Corp, learn a new style of combat, and deal with fact that being a dragon rider alienates him from his old Navy friends and embarrasses his family. And of course, it is wartime and Temeraire will have to fight for England.
Historical Fiction: First time novelist Novik appears to have done her research, as this reads as an accurate account of the era of Napoleonic Wars, with a fantastical overlay. The clever and witty dialogue is pitch perfect, helping to transport readers to the early 19th century in England. There are scenes that could be taken from any historical military fiction, with gripping descriptions of battles and tactical discussions that could satisfy any naval history buff if they can just take the imaginative leap.
Fantasy: Dragons, man. Dragons. But seriously, this is straight ahead naval warfare, but with dragons as powerful game-changing weapons. This series opener starts to deal with the backstory of how the dragons entered the arena of war, and the ethics of using intelligent, sentient beings as war machines. The history of the dragons is fleshed out more in subsequent volumes of the series. The relationship between Laurence and Temeraire is a huge draw for these books, and for those grown-up readers who worry that it is too late to find a dragon friend, they will give you hope!
RATING: 8/10 Excellent
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