Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire. (Goodreads)
I am a huge fan of both fantasy and historical fiction and I think His Majesty's Dragon is the perfect combination of both. When I first heard about this book, mainly from library patrons wanting to find it, I was really excited about the idea of the Napoleonic Wars with dragons. Even with my high expectations, I can say that this book was so much better than I could have imagined. When I first starting reading His Majesty's Dragon, it reminded me a bit of the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld, which I read at the beginning of this year. What really made me love Novik's novels even more than Westerfeld's, though, is the representation of the dragons and their relationship with the humans.
The book begins Captain Laurence and his crew capturing a French ship that just happens to be carrying a dragon egg. From their initial discussion about dragons (how to harness them, making sure they are harnessed before allowing them to fly, the option of sending the dragon to the breeding grounds if he can't be harnessed) made me think that the dragons in this book would essentially be treated like property. Once Temeraire hatches, everything changes for Laurence and he forms a very real and loving bond with the dragon. I absolutely love the dragons Novik has created for this series. They are extremely intelligent and are characters in their own right, not just a means of transportation or war machines. It's no secret that I'm an animal lover, so Novik's representation and treatment of dragons in this novel played a huge part in winning me over.
As far as human protagonists, I didn't find Laurence to be quite as interesting as his dragon, but they make a good pair. Laurence is a very disciplined, upright gentleman who is overly concerned with doing his duty to the crown. Temeraire isn't very concerned with human laws and is constantly engaging Laurence in discussions that challenge his beliefs. Honestly, Laurence isn't the most compelling character, but I think he nicely represents some of the beliefs of the time period. What does work well, in my opinion, is they way Novik uses this overly traditional character to contrast the more relaxed and progressive life of the Aerial Corp. Not only are the other aviators much less concerned with the formalities and manners that Laurence is used to from his time in the navy, but they also employ women and young girls in the service. I think the addition of free thinking dragons and the Aerial Corp allows Novik to insert some more modern values into this book in a way that wouldn't feel natural if it were simply a historical fiction novel.
Overall, I think Novik's writing is what really makes this book so enjoyable to read. Her representation of the time period and the language used by the characters felt spot on, although I am by no means an expert on the time period. Her details of the navy, aerial corp, and general military actions were enough to set the mood and show that she did her research, but didn't feel overwhelming to me as someone who doesn't have a huge knowledge of or interest in military history. I highly recommend this to anyone who likes fantasy or historical fiction, and I think it is a must read for animal lovers.