The continuing chronicle of Wesley's quest to be published; plus comments on popular culture, family life, and whatever else falls out of his head.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Review: "His Majesty's Dragon," Naomi Novik

His Majesty's Dragon is not a book I would normally pick up on my own. The reason I did was on the recommendation of a few different agents. Since I'm trying to get my own novel accepted, I've been scanning agents' blogs on a regular basis for the past several months, and picking up stories that the agents or other prominent authors recommend, the thinking being that if an agent liked it well enough to recommend even if she didn't represent the author, then it must be good. This is the second time I've found a book based solely on agent recommendation. Already Dead was the first.

Laurence is captain of an English during the early 1800s. Napoleon is in power in France, and basically every country in Europe is at war with one-another. Laurence's ship encounters a French Frigate returning home from China. After overcoming the ship, he discovers that the sole item of cargo is a large dragon egg that is about to hatch.

In this world, dragons are common enough that they are in nearly every part of the world and bred and raised by every nation in their war efforts. The trick, however is that they bond almost immediately to someone present at their hatching, and therefore, if they are to be used effectively, the riders--or aviators--need to be trained and prepared years before they're ever bonded to a dragon.

You see where I'm going with this. After Captain Laurence sacrifices his career in the navy to bond with the dragon, whom he names Temeraire, they are whisked off to Scotland where they both will be trained to fight for the crown.

The remainder of the book focuses on the pair's training, and the conflicts they both have fitting in with their new surroudings; Laurence's rigid naval training and worldview does not mesh with the Air Force's more relaxed standards, and Temeraire is different from any other dragon recognized by British experts.

Being a fan of "Age-of-sail" stories myself, I was expecting this to be a high adventure on the level of CS Forester. But it isn't. There are a handful of aerial battles, and the climactic battle over the English Channel is something to behold. However, the book isn't plot driven. The plot is truly negligible, as the real thrust of the book is the charm of the two main characters. It is, in fact, something of a love story. It could be an "A boy and his dragon" story. Captain Laurence's stiff formality is melted away by Temeraire's buoyant enthusiasm for new experiences and learning, and his eagerness to please his soulmate, Laurence.

While this is Novik's first novel and she doesn't appear to have any obvious degrees in history, she writes as an expert in the Napoleonic era. Her style is not the overstuffed flowery mush that so much fantasy is, but is simple and direct in its poetry.

Plus, Stephen King loved it, and this is not remotely a chiller.

I enjoyed it too. As I read it, I thought it was okay, but I didn't realize I would miss the characters as much as I do. It's a good thing the publisher is rushing out the first three books in the series in quick succession, so I can read The Jade Throne right now instead of waiting a year or more.

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