Book: His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

Entertaining alternate-history fanatasy

Naomi Novik
His Majesty's Dragon
Del Rey, 2006
ISBN: 978-0-345-48128-3
356 pages

His Majesty's Dragon is the first book in Naomi Novik's (so far) six-book series of novels set during the Napoleonic Wars. That era has been a fertile setting for historical novels. I have written here about one of Bernard Cornwell's novels set at that time and three of Patrick O'Brian's (1, 2, 3). So it's safe to say that I'm inclined to like that sort of novel.

In His Majesty's Dragon, Ms Novik has added to the things usually found in the Napoleonic Wars an aerial corps of human-carrying combat dragons. The Napoleonic Wars present plenty of opportunities for drama and interest without the addition of dragons. But that doesn't mean that adding them is necessarily a bad thing.

As the book begins, navy Captain Will Laurence and the crew of HMS Reliant has just captured the French frigate AmitiƩ. The French ship had been weakened by a recent encounter with bad weather but its crew put up an unusually fierce defense even though defeat was certain. The reason for that is quickly found: the ship is carrying a dragon's egg. Captain Laurence and his crew being naval men, most of them don't know much about dragons or their eggs. But since it's a British ship there's a naturalist aboard who can remedy much of that.

It seems that the egg is about to hatch (the French ship was far behind schedule) and when a dragon's egg hatches, there is generally only a single opportunity to bond the dragon to a human handler (and flight captain). None of the naval officers likes the idea of being attached to a dragon. Apart from that officer's having to leave the navy, aviators have something of a dodgy reputation. And since a dragon's handler can't stray for long far from their charge and you can't very well bring a dragon to a concert in town, taking part in any sort of society becomes impossible.

The unmarried officers of the ship draw lots to see who should attempt to engage the dragon's attention when it hatches. To his relief, Captain Laurence's name isn't chosen. But when the egg hatches everyone is on deck to watch. And the hatchling ignores the man chosen and instead strikes up a conversation with Captain Laurence. Knowing his duty, he follows the protocol he has recently read about and names the dragon Temeraire.

Happily, not everything that Captain Laurence supposes to be true about being a dragon's handler turns out to be true. And some things that might strike a naval officer as dodgy aren't so bad when viewed from the other side.

What follows is a very respectable adventure story. There are surprises, reputations gained and lost, heroic deeds, and famous battles. Patrick O'Brian's books are better literature but there aren't going to be any more of them. His Majesty's Dragon is entertaining and imaginative. A good adventure story is always very welcome.

Posted: Wed - August 4, 2010 at 08:15   Main   Category: