His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik: Book Review

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Cover of His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

4 Stars

His Majesty’s Dragon begins when Captain Will Laurence’s ship has just overpowered a French ship. Napoleon is slowly conquering Europe, so any defeat of the French, no matter how small, is a big deal. As Will’s crew is inventorying the French ship’s cargo, they find something unusual: a dragon egg. But complications arise when they find out that the egg will hatch in a week and they’re about three weeks from shore. Dragons have been tamed in this alternate world and they’re used to wreak devastation on the enemy. But they must imprint on their rider within the first few minutes of hatching if they’re to be put to harness. That means someone from the ship’s crew must step forward and be willing to sacrifice his naval career for the good of England.

What a hugely fun fantasy/adventure! There’s honestly no ground-breaking literature here, but if you want a good, swashbuckling adventure tale, this is it.

I loved the dragon, Temeraire. He was by far the best character overall. It was fun to watch Will grow from being this stick in the mud British sea captain to finally loosening up some and having fun. Somewhat related to that, I loved the very proper British English present throughout the book. I have no idea how accurate is, except that the author is American which probably means it isn’t, but sentences like, “Celeritas tells me to ask you to show me about; will you be so good?” just tickled me for some reason. I could just hear the very plummy uppercrust British guys talking.

I don’t really read military books, and this did sort of cross over to that genre. But the battle scenes were well-written and exciting. I didn’t have any problem following what was going on.

I did have a few problems with the book. I’m a fantasy fan, so I’m obviously willing to suspend any disbelief and let an author tell me a good story. But I do like authors to be consistent within the worlds they create. This book is set pretty firmly in this world, there just happen to be dragons flying around overhead during the Napoleonic wars. There were just two things that really bugged me that I can’t let go. I found one of them to be so unbelievable that I laughed out loud with incredulity while waiting for a ride in a hospital waiting room. Luckily at that time of day it was mostly empty. But that one thing was enough to knock the book from five stars to four stars. Maybe it will be explained later, but right now I’m not buying it.

It’s impossible to read a book about a dragon and its rider without comparing it to Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. It’s been too long since I read a Pern book, so I can’t meaningfully comment on that. The other dragonrider series I have read is Mercedes Lackey’s Joust series. I preferred His Majesty’s Dragon. The whole backdrop of the Napoleonic wars was just hugely intriguing to me.

Despite the flaws, which were really only a small part, I do recommend this to readers who like adventure stories and to dragon lovers. I’ll be continuing the series.

Reviewed April 6, 2009

Read an excerpt.

Find author Naomi Novik on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Friday Flashback Reviews, a feature at The Introverted Reader

Friday Flashback Reviews are a weekly feature here on The Introverted Reader. These are old reviews I wrote on GoodReads. Thanks to Angieville and her Retro Friday Reviews for the inspiration and encouragement!

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.

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1 Comment

  1. I enjoy this series, and this book is far and away my favorite. In fact I think it's one of my desert island books. I love Temeraire and Laurence, and watching their relationship grow. But I also love the world of the corps. The author is a big fan of Patrick O'Brian's novels as well as Jane Austen, from what I read, & I think that shows. I was also obsessed with Anne McCaffrey's Pern books growing up, & I so wanted my own dragon. Have you read Jo Walton's Tooth and Claw?

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