His Majesty's Dragon
by Naomi Novik
Review by Paul Haggerty
Del Rey Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0345481283
Date: 28 March, 2006 List Price $7.50 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik is the first in a trilogy which has already been release in the UK (see John Berlyne's review of the British version, and his interview with Naomi Novik in the our January 2006 issue.) The two sequels, Throne of Jade and Black Powder War will be released in the US in May and June respectively.
Captain William Laurence is a commander of the British warship HMS Reliant; until the day when they come across a French frigate. As a result of the ensuing battle, Laurence takes possession of an extremely rare treasure, an unhatched dragon's egg. Unfortunately the egg does not stay that way for long, and Laurence becomes the master of the young dragon Temeraire. Since a dragonrider is not permitted to command a naval vessel, Laurence and the rapidly growing Temeraire are dispatched to the Aerial Corps training grounds to learn how to join in the aerial defense of England. Temeraire is a rare specimen; smart, courageous, and fiercely loyal to those he can call friend. But he has a lot to learn about how dragons and men fight together; as well as how the different breeds of dragon are all brought together to form a force stronger than any of its parts. And none to soon, as Emperor Napoleon has plans for the Isles and the King will soon need every dragon he can muster to beat back an invasion by both sea and air.
As with most first books, a good chunk of this tale is concerned with setting up the universe. Fortunately, most of the world works the same as ours. So it is mostly just a matter of taking the late 1800s, early 1900s and adding an air force made up of dragons and the society that forms around it. It's a society of bigots and scoundrels, heroes and patriots. In other words, it's pretty much like the real world so, other than for a few procedural issues, the reader should have no problem picking it up right alongside the protagonist. I'm a sucker for a dragon, so Temeraire appealed to me from the start. Laurence took a bit longer as his attitudes are more typical of his time period, and therefore a bit strange. But as soon as he's thrust out of the world he knows and into the strange realm of the aerial corps, you can feel his struggles to find his new place, and much of his strangeness is drowned in a new strangeness that the reader can share with him.
A good fun read. I look forward to the sequels.