I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. The following review may contain slight spoilers.
Several years ago, I bought my friend a copy of Empire of Ivory for Christmas, and that was my first brush with the world of Temeraire. I must admit it was unfortunately brief – I purchased the book at the store, wrapped it up, and handed it right over to my friend along with wishes for a happy holiday. That’s it. I remember her recommending the series to me enthusiastically, but at the time I had other books to read, other activities to pursue, and little interest in any encounter with history, even in fantasy.
Now, a little over five years later, I regret not having started on this beautifully crafted book sooner.
His Majesty’s Dragon is the first in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, a set of books based on an alternate, fantastical history of our world during the era of Napoleon. The main character, Laurence, finds himself the sudden handler of newly hatched dragonet, the unexpected prize after capturing an enemy ship that was carrying its egg. His new circumstances force him to leave the Navy and join the ranks of the aviators of the Aerial Corps. At first upset about this change, Laurence slowly finds his way in his new life and comes to appreciate his duties and his dragon, Temeraire.
Laurence is the perfect kind of protagonist, the kind you can come to love not only for his strengths, but also for his faults. His motivations and self-doubts are real, and when he commits himself to a cause, you find yourself just as committed. To prevent spoilers, I shall not describe in too much detail one realization that quite delighted me about his character growth, but I’ll say this: Novik is a brilliant writer, for she incorporates the change gradually enough to make it realistic, but makes it stand out enough so that when you do notice, you can more fully appreciate his character.
Temeraire, likewise, is a very enjoyable part of the novel. I shall not say much on him, for there are more spoilers there, but at least this: I found myself wishing often while reading that I were Laurence, so that Temeraire could be my best friend and partner. That was how real he seemed to me, even though he was part of the more fantasy-like aspect of the novel.
There are too many other good things about this book to spend a paragraph dwelling on each one: the clarity and elegance of the author’s style, the wonderful dialogue, the good inclusion of female characters even in a setting that might normally exclude them from pivotal roles, a well-developed world that blends history and fantasy in a unique way. I could go on for some time, and find little to criticize, but for now I shall step back and simply recommend His Majesty’s Dragon strongly to anyone who loves fantasy reads. You need only find your way over to page one, and after that I daresay the quality of the book can speak perfectly for itself.