Sunday, April 23, 2006

His Majesty's Dragon

I've just finished reading His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommed it to anyone who likes dragons in their historical fiction. Novik's sole fantastic premise is that dragons exist - in a number of regional varieties, from British and French to Chinese - and the rest of the story is extrapolated from this.

The novel is set during the Napoleonic Wars, and as it begins Captain Will Laurence is master of the ship Reliant when it encouters a French vessel. Once the ship it taken, he finds it carries a major prize - a dragon's egg. Despite his misgivings, he finds himself handler to the newly hatched dragon, whom he calls Temeraire.

From there the book moves through Laurence and Temeraire's training as aviators as they try to find their place - Laurence is a misfit as a Navy man and Temeraire proves to be equally different when it is discovered he is a Chinese dragon rather than a familiar British breed.

This is a nicely written alternative history, where the dragons are as much characters as the humans. Laurence and Temerarie are beautifully drawn and getting to know them as they got to know each other was a delight. I did feel I had a bit of an advantage over Laurence, since I know that a five toed Chinese dragon was going to be as much a scholar as any kind of fighter and so I was unsurprised at Temerarie's delight in having Laurence read to him or his grasp of mathematics and tactics.

In the sequel (Throne of Jade, to be published next month) they visit China, so it will be interesting to see them learn more about Temerarire and his abilities.

Novik's air force is well drawn - used to dragon books where each dragon has a single rider, I was at first suprised by her full crews - from a second to the sharpshooters and bombers and the maintenance crew. They are well drawn and her tactics sound solid to me in my inexperience.

The end of the book covers the time of the Battle of Trafalgar and it's aerial partner the dragon fought Battle of Dover. Napoleon's method for invading Britain is brilliant and I don't want to spoil it by saying anything more than that. There is something of a Battle of Britain feel to this section as the tired, outnumbered aviators fight off an overwhelming force, but Novik makes it all her own.

I thoroughly enjoyed this an recommend it.

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