There are many novels about dragons, most of which contain at least some clichés. With His Majesty’s Dragon, Naomi Novik has tried to avoid all those things that have been done before. And succeeded. His Majesty’s Dragon is her debut novel, and first in a series named after its lead dragon: Temeraire.
As I said, Naomi Novik has done something with dragons that hasn’t been done before. She has created an alternative history, set in the Napoleon era, where dragons have been bred for battle. They are used in the air forces of both France and Britain, the opposing sides in a historical war. This war is mostly fought at sea and above sea. His Majesty’s Dragon is, however, about more than just war. It’s about the interactions between dragons and their riders.
His Majesty’s Dragon starts with a sea battle, where William Laurence, captain of the ship The Reliant, engages a French vessel and wins. Among their prize is a dragon egg of unknown origin. As they make their way back to England to deliver it, the egg hatches. Temeraire is born and, to everyone’s surprise, he chooses Will Laurence as her new captain. This changes Laurence’s life forever, and now he suddenly must leave the Royal Navy to become a captain in the much less honorable Aerial Corps.
From this point on, the book mainly consists of three parts: the growing up of Temeraire, the training of both dragon and captain and, finally, the battle against Napoleon’s forces on and above the North Sea. The story is intriguing, but the book is short, much too short. There wasn’t enough room to truly focus on characters, the development of the story, or the historical background of that story.
However, the characters were well written and easily recognizable and likable. What I liked about them was how they are easy to connect with, yet the historical aspect of the story was very well captured within these characters: they actually feel like eighteenth century people, which was skillfully done. The dragons, too, have been skillfully written. They have a very inhuman feel to them, making them intelligent but different, yet still easy to connect with. What I did not like about them, though, was their childishness. These dragons are like big, talking puppies: nice, but too cute to be appreciated by any fan of dragons in fantasy. This results in very unreal dialogue that belongs in a child’s novel or a Disney cartoon.
Why should you read this book?
Though I am quite critical about this book and the way it was written, I still found myself liking it. I think I needed to change the way I viewed the book, before I was able to appreciate it: don’t read His Majesty’s Dragon expecting a mature novel since it often feels more like a young adult novel. The story and setting are intriguing and make this book well worth your time. I never liked history myself, but the way this alternate history is set up is just amazing. I would definitely recommend this book when you feel like reading some lighter material for a change.