Monday, July 27, 2009

This book is made of awesome. An Alternate History Novel Review

His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire Series, Book 1)
by Naomi Novik

I think this looks very "Hey, look at me! I'm reading a fantasy novel!" Not that that's a bad thing... obviously, I'm an equal opportunity book nerd. But... it could be less nerdy. And anyway, I think this is more of an Alternate History than it is a strict High Fantasy. But I like the coloring, and the dragon looks just as Temeraire is described in the novel.

Summary: Captain Laurence is a perfect product of the British navy (during the illustrious years under Lord Admiral Nelson and amidst the Napoleonic Wars) until he unwittingly takes a prize French ship with a dragon egg aboard. As soon as the dragon breaks the shell, he knows he is done for. According to legend, dragons imprint on the first people they see, and must be harnessed by those people or else risk of being "feral" for the rest of their long lives, and of no use to the Crown. But duty is duty, and Laurence harnesses the dragon, christening him Temeraire and trying to find a way out of this loathsome situation.

It is weeks before he reaches shore and can receive any sort of explanation as to what he is to do with a growing dragon, and in that time he bonds with the intelligent, literate Temeraire, who likewise grows attached to the captain. So it is not too much of a problem for Laurence to turn in his sea legs and take to the air as a member of the Aerial Corps, serving the Crown with other dragons and their human counterparts.

Basically, if Jack Aubrey flew a dragon, this would be the book.

My Review: I was a little iffy at the start of this book. I love reading about Nelson's navy, so I was sad to see Laurence have to drop his naval life altogether. His life is practically turned upside down: he loses his betrothed, his parents practically disown him, and he can hardly be expected to keep his clothes pressed when they are packed onboard a dragon. However, the dynamics of the fictional Aerial Corps are intriguing and highly amusing, so I got over that quickly.

The dragons themselves develop personalities, in some cases stronger than the other air captains. For instance, Jane Roland, a female captain (yes, ladies are allowed because a powerful British race of dragons, the Longwing, only allow women to ride them) presents an interesting aspect of a time period that was male-dominated. However, we don't see much of her other than the fact that she is "hard-core" and treats interpersonal relationships the same way she treats relationships with dragons: no nonsense, and by-the-book. On the other hand, her dragon is shown to be a powerful addition to the Corps, and we learn a little more of the dragon society than we do of the human.

Temeraire is darling, needless to say. He comes to represent everything that was missing in Laurence's life (other than the woman, of course) when he was in the navy, and he happens to be a valuable Chinese breed of dragon. Not only is it important that he was stolen from the French, but he will come to be a valuable addition to the British dragon breeding lines. The Corps can only hope to keep word of his theft on the down low as long as possible, as there is no telling what the Chinese will do to get him back.

Laurence is endearing as well. Raised to the navy his whole life, he puts duty before personal desire and ensures protocol wherever he goes, whether or not his input is actually requested. He is more disciplined than the other air captains, which highlights the difference between the tight-knit society of the navy and the individual-strength based society of the air corps. I hope we get to see more of his awkward personal encounters and compass-like sense of duty in the other books in the series.

Overall, I loved this book. I downloaded it a few months ago to my eReader when Random House was promoting their SciFi/Fantasy line (the free downloads are no longer available, sadly) and had never gotten around to reading it, but I'm so glad I finally picked it up. I highly recommend it if you like great action sequences and a little anachronism in your historical fiction! I know I will definitely be reading the rest of the Temeraire series.

With a little Google searching, I found this gorgeous artwork of Temeraire in his formidable days on the high seas before joining the Corps.

Edited August 4th: This is the hardcover of the Science Fiction Book Club omnibus, which holds books 1-3 in the Temeraire series. I am going to need to get myself a copy of that volume! Thanks, Sue, for the info. The painting is by Todd Lockwood, and you can visit his website here to see his other cool fantasy-based works.

Visit the author's website

Buy this book on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. I've heard a lot of good things about this series! luv the pic at the bottom that's definitely awesome art. I can't remember if I have this book somewhere in the boxes buried deep in my house. I'll have to find it if not look it up. It does sound interesting and a strange view of fantasy/historical fiction.