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 Amazon)
I’m not sure why, but for some reason when I saw His Majesty’s Dragon at Suvudu I thought it would be a) a stupid fantasy with a hard-on for dragons, and b) boring/cliched/etc. So I didn’t try reading it until I ran into a review of it on another blog somewhere. That review convinced me to try His Majesty’s Dragon out, and I’m so glad it did because this book is FANTASTIC.
I’m not a particularly big fan of dragons, but I am a fan of the navy and anything to do with it, so I was stoked to find out that the main character (besides the dragon), Laurence, was a naval officer. And since this takes place in the early 1800s, that means lots of wonderful uniforms and stiff-upper-lipping and wooden ships and, well, Napoleon. But since this is an alternative history/speculative fiction book, things are just a little bit different in His Majesty’s Dragon than they are in our world.
For one thing, um: dragons. But they’re not standard dragons: not all of them breath fire, and they come in different sizes, colors, and temperaments. And they’re used in an aerial corps. Piloted by a captain and a crew. (Some of those captains are female, as well!) They do, however, like gold, eating meat, and fighting. So not everything’s different from the stereotypical interpretation of dragons. As a sort of a side note, I was a little surprised that there wasn’t more variation in dragons; all of them were the European kind. I was expecting there to be different species, like the different-looking Chinese and Japanese dragons.
Anyway, I’m sure if I was more of a history or military buff, I could talk all about the battles in the book, and how they differed (or didn’t) from the real-world battles, and I’d o on and on about Nelson or whatever, and this review would be so much for interesting. Unfortunately, I’m not, so I’ll have to make due with what I’ve already got: a lot of enthusiasm.
What I love most about His Majesty’s Dragon is that the dragons are more personable and likable than maybe in other fantasy books. I liked Temeraire, who was sweet and intelligent and kind, and I thought a lot of the other dragons (Volly!) were adorable. I liked spending time with them.
I also liked the human characters a lot. Laurence, as I’ve already mentioned, gained a lot of my love simply by being tied to the navy, but I also grew to love Granby, his lieutenant, and even Captain Harcourt, one of the female captains, who was a little bit stiff and kind of a milk sop.
The fight scenes were so exciting, especially the ending one which I can’t really talk about without spoiling. But even more I liked the relationship between Temeraire and Laurence– so cute! Watching it develop was lovely.
The writing was good, too; I can’t remember anything in particular I didn’t like about it. Even though I have basically no knowledge of the Napoleonic wars, I never felt hindered by it, nor confused. Novik definitely has a way of talking about military maneuvers and what have you without making them boring or complicated, and I appreciated that. The book overall has a real feel of C.S. Forester’s books to it, including language– though it’s a little updated, I’d say.
In my Twitter feed I said that His Majesty’s Dragon felt like Horatio Hornblower, but with dragons and a slightly more likable main character, and it truly does. I highly recommend it!
Read: March 2009