Monday, September 12, 2011
His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik
His Majesty's Dragon is the first in the Temeraire series by Novik. The novel is set in the time of the Napoleonic wars, though it doesn't spend a lot of time working on total historical accuracy. The story starts aboard a warship in service of the king of England, when they have just finished a somewhat one-sided battle with a French frigate. When they board the ship to plunder it, Captain Will Laurence discovers a treasure worth a king's ransom, the unhatched egg of a dragon.
Dragons are more commonplace in the world of Temeraire than in our own, so Laurence is not unfamiliar with them, though its discovery puts him into the midst of a dilemma, as the aerial corps who normally deal with dragons is several weeks sailing away from their present location, and a dragon normally imprints upon whomever harnesses it first, shortly after hatching. Once the bond is forged, that person must join the aerial corps, and will have to leave the Navy - a fate worse than death, evidently. They draw lots to see who will approach the dragon first, and a young sailor is chosen - who is afraid of heights, by the way. The dragon ignores the sailor, and fixates on Captain Laurence, instead.
Laurence turns over the ship to his second in command, and spends the rest of the voyage home taking care of the young dragon, whom he has named Temeraire. The dragon grows by leaps and bounds, and eats to match. When he arrives home in England, he's in a little hot water with his superiors until they realize he really had no choice in the matter of adopting a dragon, and then starts off on the wrong foot with the Corps, as they have sent a dragon rider to take Temeraire off Laurence's hands, but the dragon has other ideas, and refuses to be controlled by anyone other than Will.
So Will leaves his own service, is disowned by his father, and joins the Corps. He and Temeraire must train quickly in the skills necessary for aerial combat, and find their place in a whole new world, as Napoleon's own dragon riders are coming soon to invade England and bring it under his rule.
Some great action sequences, a sympathetic hero, a few interesting supporting characters - though none with any great depth - and an interesting premise for alternate history make this one a good read. I'm looking forward to reading the next one in the series already.