Review Revisited: Naomi Novik – His Majesty’s Dragon
Length: 356 pages
Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction hybrid
Another one in the very sporadic series where I re-read books for which I’ve already written reviews, and see if I still agree with myself. In this case, I read the book originally in May 2007. Since then, I’d acquired the next three books in the series… and completely forgotten what happened in the first one. Something to do with dragons, I remembered that much. :)
Started: 20 May 2007 / 20 April 2009
Finished: 23 May 2007 / 23 April 2009
Verdict? Loved it as much as I did the first time.
Like bacon and cheese,
everything’s better if you
add in some dragons.
Summary: It’s the Napoleonic War, and Captain Will Laurence’s ship has just taken a French frigate as a prize, only to find out that it’s carrying an about-to-hatch dragon egg. Britain’s aerial corps are constantly in need of more dragons to defend their ships and their lands against the French. Dragons bond to their handler almost immediately upon hatching, and Laurence is horrified when the dragonlet chooses him – it will mean leaving his career, disappointing his family, and removing himself from society in order to join the Aerial Corps. However, what he doesn’t expect is the bond that he comes to form with Temeraire… who turns out to be much more than the average dragon.
Original Review: I enjoyed the heck out of this book. It was light, not fluffy light, but light-hearted, easy to read, and utterly charming. I enjoyed it from word one, and fell in love about the time that Laurence and Temeraire meet another dragon for the first time (“Cows!”). It’s a wonderful blend of historical fiction and fantasy; easier to read than Patrick O’Brian and better-written (by far) than Eragon. The military action does come late in the book, but the bonding and training of Laurence and Temeraire is really what this book is about; the aerial battle just sends it out with a bang. Interesting alternate history, lovable characters, a very enjoyable read – I spent most of this book with a smile on my face. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Thoughts on a Re-Read: I still agree with everything I said the first time around: Thoroughly, charmingly enjoyable. I am a big ol’ sucker for boys on boats, so I’m generally predisposed to anything set in the Age of Sail – throw in dragons and I’m pretty well hooked. On the other hand, I am categorically terrible at envisioning battle scenes – which can be a drawback if you read as much fantasy as I do – but Novik does such a good job with the descriptions that I can understand the broad sweeps of what’s going on, even if I still can’t always remember which dragon is which, and who’s where. There is more military action than I remembered the first time around, but the best parts of the book are not when they’re fighting.
On re-reading it, I noticed a lot of things that I hadn’t caught the first time (or had caught, but had forgotten about in the intervening two years.) There are a lot of subtle jabs at the strictures and sexism of conventional early nineteenth-century society; I particularly enjoyed Laurence’s discomfiture at the notion that there should be female captains in the Corps. He’s not a particularly deep character – thus far, he’s pretty much an upright officer and gentleman – but he’s so darn affable that he makes an excellent hero. But, of course, the show-stealer is Temeraire… there are so many moments between the two of them that just steal my heart and make me smile. As I said the first time.
Recommendation: If there are any fantasy fans out there (who even vaguely like period piece books or movies) who haven’t read this one yet, for shame! It really is a lot easier to read than you might expect, and you’re missing one of the best dragons I’ve ever met. For historical fiction fans who are generally leery of fantasy, give this one a try… I bet you’d be surprised how seamlessly dragons fit into the Napoleonic wars – and how much you miss them when they’re not there.
Links: Naomi Novik’s website
Other Reviews: Book Nut, Dear Author (1), Dear Author (2), The Written World, Deliciously Clean Reads, Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin’ Book Reviews, Fiddle-de-dee’s Not English, Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog, Gamila’s Review, The Wertzone, Adventures in Reading, Confessions of a Bibliovore, Neth Space, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, Sandstorm Reviews
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: The deck of the French ship was slippery with blood, heaving in the choppy sea; a stroke might as easily bring down the man making it as the intended target.