His Majesty’s Dragon, aka Temeraire, UK (2006), Throne of Jade (2006), Black Powder War (2006), Empire of Ivory (2007), Victory of Eagles (2008), Tongues of Serpents (2010), Crucible of Gold (2012), Blood of Tyrants (2013), League of Dragons (2016)
Published by: Del Rey
“I should rather have you than a heap of gold, even if it were very comfortable to sleep on.”
— Temeraire (to Laurence)
Usually, when one encounters stories with dragons, said stories would fall under the category of Fantasy. His Majesty’s Dragon, though, is almost as non-fantasy as a fantasy novel could be. As it takes place during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800’s, the book can be more accurately labeled historical fiction… just with dragons. Think Horatio Hornblower, or Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander, but with the added feature of an Air Force made up of dragons and their crews. The combination works, overall, so if you’re a fantasy fan but not a fan of alternate history (or vice-versa), the book — and the series that follows — is worth checking out anyway.
The plot follows Will Laurence, captain in the Royal Navy, whose ship captures a French frigate in battle and discovers in the hold a dragon egg about to hatch. Dragons attach themselves to people quite quickly upon hatching, and wouldn’t you know it, this particular dragon attaches himself to Will (which is probably a good thing, as had it been someone else, having Will be the main character wouldn’t have made all that much sense), which thus forces Will to leave his Naval career to become an aviator. The dragon, named Temeraire by Will, turns out to be a rare Chinese breed with some unique capabilities compared to the normal breeds used by the British in their Aerial Corps. The rest of the book follows both Temeraire’s growth and education, as well as the training of the two of them in operations and maneuvers as part of the Corps.
One of the best things about the series is how natural it feels. Considering that the Napoleonic War has been well studied and oft-used, making an alternate version thereof that includes dragons could have come across as completely fake. But Novik’s writing, with her descriptions and characterizations, makes the addition of dragons feel natural. It works.
And the main characters of Will and Temeraire work as a pairing. Temeraire’s natural inquisitiveness and curiosity combine with Will’s sense of duty and resentment over the loss of his chosen Naval career, and the characters feel natural in their interactions. It is a little hard to define their relationship, it must be said, as it is sort of a combination of a friendship, partnership, parent/child relationship, and perhaps even a marriage. A little odd, particularly with Novik’s attempt (usually successful) at 1800’s-esque language and conversation style, but it, too, works.
There are a few things that I would have liked to have seen done differently, though. One of the biggest is that I felt that Will’s naval experience was underutilized. He accepted his new position in life as Temeraire’s partner and member of the Aerial Corps rather easily (explained via his strong sense of duty), but there were only a few places in the series where his expertise really shines.
But overall, this is a worthwhile read (the first book in the series was nominated for the Hugo) for anyone who likes dragons and/or Napoleonic War historical fiction.
Heavier on the dragons.