Musings on writing, lessons learned by an aspiring professional, book reviews, movie reviews, an occasional t.v. show review, and unashamed opinion.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Read this, now!

You can probably guess by the title of this post that I'm very excited about this latest audiobook I've listened to.  I can tell you, with all honesty, that I think it is one of the finest fantasy novels I have ever read.  The book is His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik.

That's right.  Dragons.

Normally, I avoid dragons like I avoid vampires, werewolves, and other silly fantasy cliches.  With the exception of George R.R. Martin's series, The Hobbit, and Harry Potter, I don't own a single dragon book.  Dragons, after all, are for geeks.  And my friends, I read cool fantasy.  (You heard me.  Cool fantasy.)  Having said that, I'm really digging dragons right now--at least ones that serve as the equivalent of a 19th century air force. 

His Majesty's Dragon is the first in Novik's Temeraire series.  (Book 7 comes out next month.)  Like Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander novels, Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series, and C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower adventures, it is set in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars.  I've never read Forester, but I've been a long time fan of Master and Commander, and Bernard Cornwell, (see review of Death of Kings) so I feel confidant in saying HMD reads just like those heavy weights of historical fiction.  HMD is a much lighter read, (than MaC, anyway... the Sharpe books have always been on the light side of historical fiction) but I definitely felt like I was reading a historical novel.  Novik got 19th mannerisms and societal standards right.  This gives her perfect credit in the research department--which is important.  If I felt like she had the historical aspects wrong, it would have been much easier to scoff at the massive lizard beasts that take up the majority of the book. 

Dragons, as far as I could tell from the first book, have always existed.  They are a natural part of the world, like dogs... and bad British teeth.  Everyone accepts that they are part of life.  They aren't just cool magical creatures, however.  There are serious consequences to having them around.  Like the massive amounts of cattle, sheep, fish, deer, and small children they eat.  (Okay, no small children get swallowed... but it could happen, if a dragon was hungry enough.)  I thought Novik did an amazing job at balancing the pros and cons of dragons.  She doesn't make it easy owning them.  Scratch owning.  It's more like partnering with them.  They are sentient, intelligent beings, after all.  

Dragons bond to a single person when they are hatched.  That person will become their rider, and a captain in their country's air corps.  Also, the dragons speak, and learn the language, or languages, that are most often spoken around them while they are in the shell.  They come out able to communicate almost immediately.  This is what happens in the opening of HMD.

Will Laurence, captain of HMS Reliant, captures a French frigate in the middle of the Atlantic.  He and his crew discover an egg in the hold of the French ship, and claim it for the British crown.  The egg hatches while they are still weeks away from shore, and Captain Laurence is forced to become its human companion.  This event turns Laurence's life upside down, and he has to leave the navy to start a new career as an airman.  

Most of HMD is about Laurence and Temeraire (the Dragon, named after the famous "The Fighting Temeraire--a British ship that served at the Battle of Trafalgar) learning how to become part of Britain's Air Corps.  I would have liked it if the book had a bit more action in it, but the pacing is good enough, despite the few battle scenes being sparse and to the point.  I wouldn't have complained if the book had another hundred pages added to it.  The ending is very good, though, and so I won't even give the book a single shake of my angry fist.  I don't even want to.  I can only grin while thinking about this well-written, entertaining story.   

There isn't any magic in the book.  Maybe there is later on in the series, but I hope not.  The one fantasy element is done so well that I don't want other things spoiling the dragon fun.  If you're like me, and love historical fiction and fantasy, don't miss picking up this brilliant novel.  

His Majesty's Dragon gets 5 out of 5 stars.

I should add that I discovered this book while reading a review of it by Orson Scott Card.  If my little review didn't convince you, pop over to his website and read his.        


  1. So funny. I just picked this book up tonight (before reading this) at the library on CD on a whim. Now I'm excited to listen to it!

  2. Sounds like they're based off of Anne McCaffrey's dragons of Pern.

  3. I'm a huge fan of dragons... as long as they're done right. Here, it sounds like they might be. :)