Laurence did not understand his attitude, until Temeraire said, “I do not suppose that is real? There is no way that people can become dragons, or the reverse?”
“No, I am afraid not,” Laurence said slowly; the notion that Temeraire might have liked to make a change was distressing to him, suggesting as it did a very deep unhappiness.
But Temeraire only sighed and said, “Oh, well; I thought as much. It would have been nice, though, to be able to read and write for myself when I liked, and also that you could fly alongside me.”
(from His Majesty’s Dragon, pages 209-210)
His Majesty’s Dragon, the first book in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, was my book club’s August pick. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, the novel follows Captain Will Laurence of the British Navy, whose ship captures a French frigate carrying an unhatched dragon egg. When the egg hatches before they reach the shore, Laurence, recognizing the importance of the dragon to England’s war effort, harnesses it — bonding himself to the dragon for the rest of his life.
As a result, Laurence is forced to give up any plans he might have had for marriage and any semblance of a normal life to join the Aerial Corps as captain of Temeraire, a rare Chinese Imperial dragon. As he and Temeraire forge a strong friendship, Laurence soon realizes that he is where he belongs and becomes very attentive and protective of the dragon everyone wants to see and no one thinks he deserves.
Novik takes readers on a journey with Laurence as he overcomes the hostility among members of the Aerial Corps who waited for years to captain their own dragons only to be usurped by a lowly Naval captain with no aerial combat experience; endures grueling training sessions, intense combat, and even moments of sheer joy with Temeraire; and most importantly, develops a relationship with the dragon that is somewhere between a close friendship and intense love. Laurence spends all his free time grooming, reading to, conversing with, and simply enjoying the company of Temeraire, whose childlike awe and advanced intelligence never cease to amaze him.
I have never been a fan of fantasy novels, and I admit I wasn’t looking forward to reading His Majesty’s Dragon, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it from the very beginning and how much I grew to love Laurence and especially Temeraire by the end. At the beginning, when the sailors were waiting for the newly hatched Temeraire to talk, I was worried that aspect of the book would be cheesy, but Novik made me believe in a world where talking dragons exist, and I couldn’t get enough of Temeraire’s humorously innocent comments, his bold declarations of devotion to Laurence, and his insatiable desire for books and knowledge.
Novik created a world in which dragons are not magical creatures, but simply a species that possesses human-like intelligence and breed-specific powers. Each dragon that trains and fights alongside Laurence and Temeraire, just like their captains, has a well-developed and distinct personality. Novak also does a great job balancing world-building and character development with the action needed to propel the story forward, increasing tensions among the captains and dragons as Napoleon’s plans to invade England come to a head. The idea of dragons being used as weapons in the Napoleonic Wars may sound silly, but Novik makes it seem plausible.
The book club generally thought His Majesty’s Dragon was a decent fantasy novel and better than many expected, though I think I loved it more than most. In fact, I admit it made me want my own Temeraire to draw me under his wing while I read to him. (I never expected to love/want a dragon, but I also never expected to encounter a dragon who loves books as much as I do!)
My experience with His Majesty’s Dragon serves as another argument in favor of reading outside your comfort zone. I went from dreading this book to longing to drop everything and read the rest of the series right now. (The eighth book was just released.) Novik puts a unique spin on history with a believable story about a young dragon trying to find his place in the world and a man whose life was thrown into chaos and changed for the better, complete with enthralling characters and descriptions that made it impossible for me to put the book down. If you’ve never given thought to reading a dragon book, I hope you’ll consider giving this one a try. I’m glad I did, and now I can’t wait to devour the next book in the series!
Disclosure: I borrowed His Majesty’s Dragon from my local library.
© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.