Reading Journal Entry: His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

I stayed up late to read Peace Like a River. When reading His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik, I stayed up late, and then woke up early to read some more before work.

I like reading fantasy novels. I like reading novels set in Regency England. What could be better than a combination of the two? Dragon is set during the Napoleonic wars, and Novik pulls off the best evocation of the Royal Navy since Patrick O'Brian.

Captain William Lawrence, of the HMS Reliant, discovers at the conclusion of a successful naval engagement that he has captured from the French a large dragon egg. This doesn't come as a complete surprise, as dragons are a domesticated species and their handlers form a Regency equivalent of the Air Force. The egg is close to hatching. As aviators are viewed as near-pariahs, neither Lawrence nor his officers are eager to harness the being about to emerge. Nonetheless, such a valuable asset to His Majesty's forces can't be left to fly away unharbessed. They draw straws. And the dragon promptly turns up his nose at the poor midshipman and chooses the most senior office on board - Captain Lawrence.

Lawrence must perforce leave the navy and enter the Aerial Corps, a branch of the British military consisting of dragons, the men who have bonded with them, and various support personnel who are key to the war against France. Of course, Napoleon has his own dragons, and so does everyone else.

The rather typical 'newbie' plotline in which Lawrence and the readers are together introduced to this world is well-executed; Novik is obviously well acquainted with the era and gets the historical and cultural details right. The insular, but atypically relaxed culture of the aviators gives her an opportunity to have characters with more modern attitudes and dialogue without seeming anachronistic. Lawrence is a good guy with a pole up his ass when it comes to ethics (just my type) and Temeraire is charming. The aerial battles (and yes, there is some action after a long, long time spent on training exposition) are well-described and plausible. And finally, the biology and the zoology of the various dragon breeds is explored in a naturalistic way that lends some hefty underpinnings to the drama.


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