July 28, 2008

Book Thoughts: His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire, Book 1)

Title: His Majesty's Dragon
Author: Naomi Novik
Genre: Fantasy, Alternate History
Publisher: Del Rey (March 28, 2006)
Quick-Hit Thought: Fast, good read for those interested.

His Majesty's Dragon is the first book in a series by Naomi Novik that injects dragons into the Napoleonic era. The main character, a British Naval captain, finds himself in a pinch when his crew captures a dragon egg in transit to France. Pinched further by the egg hatching and the baby dragon being able to speak, the captain is pressed into harnessing the creature and therefore becoming bonded to it. The story follows the captain, named Laurence, on his transition into the British aerial corps with his extraordinary black dragon, Tremeraire.

The story was compelling to me as I am both a history fan and a member of the Air Force. As a member of the Air Force I picked up on the subtlety levied between the various British military branches, during a time in real history that navies dominated. The British Navy is rigid and structured, where as the aerial corps is often portrayed as open minded.

In the corps, women serve equally as men, subordinates are more likely to protest, and all because the dragons are the most important military tool available in the book's alternate history. This makes for some very fresh reading as Laurence transitions from rigid sea captain to rigid dragon pilot in a less-than-rigid aerial corps. I actually had to laugh a few times in the book at the way aviators are treated versus the ground crews that maintain the dragons, as it is very similar to how pilots and ground crew are treated in my experiences within the Air Force.

The book delights for the history buff as well. I haven't checked the time line of the book against actual events, but all seems to be in order from a cursory glance. The rigid life of the British Navy is well detailed and much thought is put into how the various dragon breeds fit into the period and available technology.

My criticisms of the book start with the action sequences, which are short and not very gripping. The characters are wonderfully built up, but feel fairly forgotten in favor of dragon slashing during battle. Unfortunately, the focus of the books is not on action, but more of how society and the military has formed around the presence of dragons. It is equitable to my experiences with the dragons of the Pern series, where the author spends a lot of time crafting a wonderful dragon-based society instead of detailing the raw damage that the beasts can deploy in battle.

Secondly, time passing is often left up to the classic "Six weeks later" approach. I'm a subscriber to "the journey is just as important as the destination" line of thinking and the book falls down on that point. However, this does make it for quick reading, which is always a plus when enough detail is leveled to ensure graceful flow.

Overall, His Majesty's Dragon is a pleasure to read for history and dragon buffs alike. I wouldn't recommend it to someone who was uninterested in both, but for any casual fans in either area I give a hearty thumbs up.