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His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik Book Review | SFReader.com
His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik Genre: Fantasy Publisher: Del Rey Published: 2006 Review Posted: 9/18/2006 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 9 out of 10
His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik
Book Review by James Michael White
Have you read this book?
Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon isn't a story to twiddle with your brain or evoke deep thoughts, but it's a fun trip to a dragon-populated eighteenth century in which Napoleon plans to use them to help conquer England, the engagement of which by the British Aerial Corps provides a "Rocky"-like big-fight capper to a plot just as similarly structured.
Novik's opening move is to show Captain Will Laurence of the HMS Reliant engaged in a sea battle with a French ship whose bedraggled crew put up bewildering resistance until it's found that, upon the captured ship, there rests a dragon egg. Oh but not just any dragon egg. It's a highly-prized Chinese one, and when the thing hatches Captain Laurence finds himself settled with a dragon that he doesn't really want yet seems to want him.
Thus book one of this story is the "getting acquainted" bit in which dragon and reluctant Captain become friends before finding themselves, in book two, enjoying lots of "Rocky"-like training for the big fight that occurs in book three.
For its fish-out-of-water charms, book one holds interest by showing a sea-captain having to improvise his way into being a dragon handler while at the same time fretting about the ruin that this means for both the career and the life he has planned, including potential marriage to his sweetie, one Edith Galman, a tepidly developed relationship that puts little real weight upon a fellow whose most troubling torments seem to be frequent affronts to his honor.
Books two and three involve lots of training of Captain Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire, by the British Aerial Corps who seem to regard each of them as, yet again, fish curiously out of water. Laurence is a sea captain, after all, and looked down upon and despised by his fellow aviators, while his dragon, of an unclassifiable sort and seemingly without special abilities like fire-breathing or poison-spitting, finds himself outside the company of other dragons.
Of course this all changes, each proving himself in the eyes of their fellows, and we have a happy ending fraught with moments of peril and derring-do and even some genuine sadness, yet there's much that remains unexplored here, and merely hinted at, the kinds of things whose revelations you'll have to wait for in the rest of the books of the series.
Thus the middle part of His Majesty's Dragon has a stretched thin quality to it, as if some of this other material has been deliberately set aside while still much has been included that borders on the tedious -- all of that training, for instance. And there are also moments that have been summarized that you'll want to have seen explored in a scene or two -- for instance, when a rival dragon handler tries to take Temeraire away from the dragon-na´ve Laurence -- we get not the scene, but rather Temeraire's recollection of it to Laurence after the fact because, well, Laurence wasn't there. This is one of the difficulties of limited third person point of view, of course, and in His Majesty's Dragon we're stuck only with what Laurence knows and sees, which means more than one such dramatic opportunity is lost.
On the whole the characters come off as thin, with a handful of them standing out just enough to be memorable, all of whom are types you will have seen before, but it's the dragons that are the heart of the story, after all, Temeraire foremost among them, and it's Novik's handling of the dragons as characters that produce the most moving scenes in the story, especially when they are wounded, dying, or suffering the sins of their handlers. In such instances the emotional button pushing is just as clear as it is spot-on, and though you'll see much of the setup for these scenes well before their arrival, they nonetheless work, and work quite well.
And there's the trick. Despite a few questions regarding content, structure, pace, and style (rarely, if ever, have I seen so many semicolons in use), the story is much more successful than not. Light, fluffy, entertainment with the heart of a dragon thumping soundly in the middle.
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