His Majesty’s Dragon
His Majesty’s Dragon is a fun romp about a boy and his dragon.
No, not really.
Author Naomi Novik is really good at 19th century speak, and has set her novel during the Napoleonic era when England was in peril of being swallowed up by French nation building. The French not only had the wiliest general, but superior numbers on the sea and in the air, so when Captain Laurence of HMS Reliant boards a French vessel and captures a soon-to-hatch dragon egg, it’s a stroke of fortune with a down side. Whoever harnesses the dragon when it hatches will have to quit the Navy. In this time and place that’s a heavy, life changing burden for men who left home at twelve years old to begin their career on the sea. Nevertheless, when Captain Laurence finds himself partnered with a young dragon he stoically gives over his ship to a trusted Lieutenant and travels to Scotland for training with his mysterious Temeraire, who is of such an unusual heritage no one knows what to expect of him.
The British navy of this period was a demanding, harsh, and often romanticized profession, so most people are at least a little familiar with the milieu. The job was highly technical, socially stringent and, at least in the all the fictional accounts I’ve read and watched, strict in military protocol. Novik has captured that feel and fashioned an equally intricate fictional world of militarized dragons with their riders and crews. Yes, the dragons are big enough to require a crew during battle. The Aerial Corps has a depth of traditions and politics and strategies to rival the British Navy, giving the story a surprising weight and drama that I hadn’t expected.
Not that I’ve read many novels concerning dragons since my avid consumption of the Anne McCaffrey books decades ago, but I think these are probably the best dragon characters ever. Temeraire is super smart but still young and learning about how the world works, and Novik uses his education to educate the reader about her fictional world without massive, pace killing blocks of exposition. All of the dragons have as much personality and are as finely drawn as all the human characters, some of which are actual women. I appreciated how cleverly Novik wove in the use of women without totally overturning the strict social rules of the day.
There is the standard passion for duty and honor that you would expect in this kind of book, but there is also an emphasis on basic human – and dragon – emotion that feels both unusual and rich. For the second time this year I was surprised at my weepy reaction to an event in a genre novel. I may be getting old and sappy, but kudos to the author for making me empathize so closely with a fictional character.
If you have ever enjoyed the movie Master and Commander you will absolutely enjoy His Majesty’s Dragon. Naomi Novik’s world building is outstanding as is the depth of plotting and characterizations. I highly recommend this work and am looking forward to reading more of the series.