Imagine if the Napoleonic wars had been fought using an air force... of dragons.
That idea is the root of Naomi Novik's Temeraire series -- an alternate-history fantasy that explores the idea of a Horatio Hornbloweresque navy officer who suddenly finds a dragon uprooting his life. The plot is a bit thin in the first book of the series, "His Majesty's Dragon," but Novik makes up for this with her richly-realized alternate world and adorable friendship between man and dragon.
Captain William Laurence's Reliant has captured a French ship -- which turns out to have a dragon egg in its hold. And when the baby dragon hatches, it decides it wants Laurence and no other to be its rider. Unfortunately, accepting the dragon (now named Temeraire) means giving up his Navy commission and joining the Air Corps -- especially since Temeraire violently rejects the idea of accepting another rider.
But both rider and dragon have a lot of learning to do, especially since Laurence has some very unusual ideas about how to treat his dragon. And Laurence discovers that not all riders treat their dragons with such love, and that life among the Corps is very different from 19th-century England's. But as the bond between them grows and Temeraire grows rapidly to maturity, the Napoleonic Wars are raging -- and Temeraire's true power hasn't yet been shown.
The Temeraire series is what Christopher Paolini's books SHOULD have been -- a richly-drawn, intelligent series about the bond between a young man and his dragon. Novik still has some rough spots in "His Majesty's Dragon" -- such as the all-too-convenient explanation for how Temeraire speaks English right out of the egg -- but it's an undeniably fascinating mesh of what 19th century war would have been like if there had been dragons.
So she conjures up a pretty fascinating world, giving dragons different breeds, physical makeup, quirks, biological features (they can blast acid, fire, even sonic waves), and relationships with their riders (one poor little dragon's rider treats him like a disposable vehicle, inspiring Laurence's rage).
Admittedly there's not much plot until the last quarter; most of the book is about Laurence and Temeraire getting used to the Corps and each other. But Novik keeps it interesting with lush, detailed writing and some truly thrilling aerial battles aboard the vast dragons. On land, there's plenty of gentle comic relief ("I am afraid that some of them go there to drink, and keep low company." "Oh, you mean whores!") and lots of messy eating (including a very reluctant sheep).
And our heroes Temeraire and Laurence are a study in contrasts. The human is mannered, thoughtful and very tied to society's mores and expectations, while the dragon has a child's enthusiasm, curiosity, honesty and stubbornness (and a gold chain he uses like a security blankie). The supporting cast -- dragons and humans alike -- are a likable bunch as well, such as a delicate schoolgirl and her refined Longwing Lily, the vast Maximus, and even a vaguely sinister Frenchman.
"His Majesty's Dragoin" is a solid introduction to a brilliantly-conceived series, with plenty of adventure, humour and a lot of lovable dragons. Definitely worth flying with.
- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 1478 KB
- Print Length: 384 pages
- Publisher: Del Rey; Reissue edition (28 March 2006)
- Language: English
- ASIN: B000GCFBQA
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Customer Reviews: 541 customer ratings