Title: His Majesty’s Dragon
Series: Temeraire #1
Author: Naomi Novik
Genre: historical fantasy (adult)
Published in 2006 by Del Rey
Rating: ★★★★ – really liked it
Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.
His Majesty’s Dragon is the story of Laurence, a captain in the marines, and Temeraire, his dragon. Laurence’s crew captures a French ship and discover that it has an unhatched dragon egg on board. They’re months away from reaching land, however, and the egg might hatch at any moment. It’s crucial that the dragon bonds with someone as soon as it hatches so they can strengthen the British Aerial Corps. Some unexpected things happen, and Laurence ends up bonding with the dragon, Temeraire.
This book is set during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s. I like how Naomi Novik managed to fully immerse the reader in the time period itself, through different tactics.
First is the writing. As I was reading this book, it occurred to me that the writing style reminded me of Jane Eyre. It has that same sentence structure and feeling to it. After looking it up, I realized that Jane Eyre was published in 1847. I don’t think I’ve ever read a fantasy novel in which I could tell the era it’s set in from the writing itself.
There’s also the obvious difference placed between men and women. It shows in little things, like how surprised Laurence was when a woman wore pants, or in the “proper” way he felt like he needed to interact with them, or in the way he would not give a female trainee the same privileges as the male ones because he needed to “protect” her. Is it annoying that this happens? Yes. However, Naomi Novik managed to show both history and present here. She added those things to the novel for historical reference, but challenges them as well. Either it’s someone else pointing his discrimination out to Laurence, or it’s him realizing how unfair it is.
I will say that my knowledge on the Napoleonic Wars is very limited, and it showed. I was quite confused at times, because you’re thrown in the middle of the war and have to figure out what’s happening by yourself. The sheer amount of places mentioned as well as the tactics and strategy behind the battles went over my head at times.
The story itself is a good mix between battle, training, and character exploration. The pacing never felt off, and it made for a pretty quick read even though the writing is not as easy to digest as most contemporary writing is.
First, Laurence and Temeraire have to get to know one another after the hatching. While I love both the main characters, my heart goes to Temeraire. I love that dragon! He made me laugh out loud multiple times, and I wish to protect him from all evil. As their bond deepens, their affection towards another is so sweet.
I do have a question though. The dragons all talk out loud in this book. In most books I’ve read, it’s more of a telepathy thing. How odd must it look when a dragon talks out loud? How do their mouths form the necessary shapes?
Laurence was an interesting character for me because I usually read about thieves, assassins, mercenaries, etc. when it comes to fantasy novels. Here, we follow a guy who is devoted to his country and duty, and prides himself on being a gentleman. It is so fascinating to read about someone focused on doing his duty and being a good citizen, even if it makes you want to push him into some mischief at times.
The one downside to this book, I would say, is that it’s clearly a set-up for a long series. You have the main characters meet, get to know one another, and train together, so that they can become a well-oiled machine for the battles to come.
I’m glad I finally picked this book up. It sat on my shelf, unread, for years… A few days after finishing it, I went to a used bookstore I love and discovered the next 3 books in the series there! I can’t wait to discover more of Laurence and Temeraire’s adventures. I would highly recommend this series, if the premise sounds at all appealing to you.