I came across Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series via a recommendation from a reading community; the first book of which is His Majesty’s Dragon. It was described as “the Napoleonic War, with dragons”, which admittedly is the best way to describe it. My history is not very good, but I suspect it is very (very) liberal with its histories. Its focus is not on what happened on a large scale, but on how it affects a young dragon and his not-young-but-new handler, Will Laurence of the Navy.
I first bought the abridged audiobook–which admittedly would not usually bode well for a series starting off just so. I didn’t really realize it was an abridged audiobook until I was surprised at how…fast it was over. I needed to have more of Temeraire, and not soon after I was able to get the three-book set and read His Majesty’s Dragon the way it should be read: in full and its entirety.
(The series is now also available in unabridged audiobook format, and with Audible’s currently-running member’s sale on first books of a series, you can get it for $5.39 versus $35.93! Yay! And you can also read the first chapter online.)
“If you would like to have your ship back,” Temeraire said, “I will let someone else ride me. Not him, because he says things that are not true; but I will not make you stay.”
Laurence stood motionless for a moment, his hands still on Temeraire’s head, with the dragon’s warm breath curling around him. “No, my dear,” he said at last, softly, knowing it was only the truth. “I would rather have you than any ship in the Navy.”
The story so far
The book follows the dragon Temeraire’s hatching and training up to his first large-scale fight with Laurence. Both of them have quite a bit of “growing up” to do: Temeraire is obviously a very young dragon and eager to know and experience everything there is in the world, but while Laurence on the other hand is an experienced Naval captain, he is quite properly a newbie in the Aerial Corps where he needs to serve now as Temeraire’s handler.
This serves as a great introduction for us readers to the series as well, as we follow them throughout the story–we learn what they learn, and understand the environment as they do as well. We both see the Corps as an outsider–a group of rough men without hearth and home and held above the law, and is generally seen as an occupation not fit for a gentleman–and an insider, as Laurence and Temeraire and thrust into the habits and norms of the Corps during their training, almost unconsciously turning some norms upside down as they go along.
The setting could not be more dire: England has a strong Navy, but is sadly outnumbered by the French in terms of aerial strength and variety, and Bonaparte will soon turn his eye to England. Every dragon–especially Temeraire, who is looking to be quite a heavy-weight–is needed to boost the ranks.
A fast-paced yet personal ride
His Majesty’s Dragon is certainly fast-paced; you sense the urgency of Temeraire and Laurence’s training to be brought up to the Corps quickly. But no matter how action-oriented the scenes are, there is always a touch of the personal in it, that it never seems like one event right after another. The characters are fleshed out and believable, and the variety of the personalities Temeraire and Laurence come into contact with are refreshing. The writing is quite flawless.
Temeraire, as well, poses quite interesting questions. He is like a very articulate child: with all of the eagerness, curiosity, and idealism of a child, with a quick and intelligent mind and swift perception.
Temeraire’s and Laurence’s relationship as it progresses throughout the book is wonderful and touching to behold, especially set against the backdrop of the war. It is master-and-pet, most definitely, but sometimes you quite wonder just who is the master her ;) as I am sure most pet-lovers could relate to. However it is also a relationship between equals, a mutual and strong friendship that transforms them both.
This is definitely a series worth starting, and a book worth reading. It’s one of the best first-of-a-series books that I’ve read so far, as it brings you into its world gradually with two different mindsets and does it so well, moving the characters and the plot along with it. It is enjoyable and touching at the same time, striking a good balance between the two. It is difficult not to fall in love with the series.