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October 6, 2008 | Comments ()



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100 Books in One Year #11: His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

Cannonball Read / Brian Prisco

Book Reviews | October 6, 2008 | Comments ()


I was thoroughly impressed with this book. I came into it expecting it to be some sort of Dungeons and Dragons-like swarm-fest of thee’s and thou’s, and I was secretly dreading reading it. It immediately captured my attention from the beginning and proceeded to blow my mind. It’s quite an ambitious series, and I wouldn’t have expected it to work. But there’s where I was wrong, and I look forward to tackling the last two books in the Temeraire Trilogy.

You see, instead of pure fantasy, this turned out to be more along the lines of historical speculative fiction. It was a deft blend of Master and Commander epic shot through with straight fantasy. The premise is that during the Napoleonic Wars, the countries all have an air corps consisting entirely of dragons. It would be the equivalent of Jane Eyre climbing to the attic and instead of finding the insane wife, there squats Hoggle about to steal a baby for the Goblin King.

Several things impressed me immediately. Novik starts the story as if the dragons existing is a completely natural element, which draws you in right away. The story itself is done in the style of a Bronte sister, focusing mostly on Laurence, a former navy captain and British lordling who finds himself a dragon handler, which is not as noble a prospect as one would think. So you have this sort of parlour manner story, with gentlemanly behavior, but set during the Napoleonic Wars with fucking dragons. It’s as if midway through Atonement, Smaug swung down and started scooping up doughboys. It is truly unlike anything I’ve ever read, and it’s well done and imaginative.

The best part of the story, however, is the dragon Temeraire. Dragons come out of the egg speaking intelligently, but curious. So it’s amazing to see the dragon interact with Laurence, and the conversations they have. The only thing remotely that it recalls might be Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh. Just this innate curiosity and maturation. It’s unbelievably darling, and it was fascinating to read. How the dragon reacts to the situation and the protocols of the service, from being anxious to participate in battle to finding out what his dragon powers might be.

Dragons don’t all breathe fire, and offensive capabilities are rare. Some spit acid. Mostly, they have crews who ride on carabiner riggins around harnesses and fire muskets from the backs of the whirling dragons. Some throw bombs down on the enemies. Some are smaller and better at maneuvering, some are giant beasts who can crush the others. It’s so cleverly done, most of the time you find yourself marveling at what Novik comes up with in the universe of the story.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. You can read more about it, here.



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