His Majesty’s Dragon

Posted by : atcampbell | On : June 6, 2006

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

Six people attended, five started and finished the book. In addition, two sent in comments.

The book explores the concept of having dragons under military command during the Napoleonic wars, as told from the British point of view. Other than the existence of dragons with extraordinary lifting capacity and special attack forms, the world of the novel works much as we would expect 18th century Europe. As such, there is a natural comparison to various British naval captain novels, such as the Hornblower series by C.S. Forester.

The general pacing of the action and exposition was excellent. Details of dragon life were revealed to the reader in a nicely spaced out way so they fit in with story action and did not slow the pace of the action. Several readers liked the attention to the details of dragon gear, ropes, and anchor points, both for the dragon and for the crew. While allowing dragons the ability to carry crews of twenty or more (and considerable gear) did cause some trouble with plausibility, it also allowed for much richer character interaction. Having dragons be intelligent also provided more opportunities for interest, so we are interested in the progress of both Temeraire, the young dragon, and Laurence, the naval captain, who bonded with Temeraire. Laurence is experienced in navy ways, but the aerial corp has quite different customs, so we observe both the progress of the young dragon and of the outsider trying to adapt to his changed estate, giving both a “coming of age” subplot and some sense of a “fish out of water” subplot to the book.

The aviator and navy differences are well played and representative of the consistent craftsmanship throughout. Indeed, the conflict between navy culture and aviator culture was a greater focus of the story than conflict between dragons and dragons or dragons and men. The interesting culture clashes helped move the story along. There is also the hidden clash between the women riders and the patriarchal culture of 18th century Britain.

The book could be described as a blend of Patrick O’Brian, Jane Austen, Hornblower, and Dragonriders of Pern, but that would not do it justice. It is better than a blend, successful in its own right. The portrayal of the culture and historical events of the time period are pleasingly accurate, as should be no surprise, given the author is described on the back cover as a history buff with a particular interest in the Napoleonic era and a fondness of the work of Patrick O’Brian and Jane Austen. This story is not a repetition of those authors, but a unique story with its own themes and fresh plots. Two sequels, “Throne of Jade” and “Black Powder War” are available in paperback, and undoubtably more are on the way. Each stands well on its own and as part of a series.

— Patrick McGehearty