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His Majesty's Dragon
Naomi Novik
Del Rey, 384 pages

His Majesty's Dragon
Naomi Novik
Naomi Novik was born in New York in 1973. A first-generation American, she was raised on Polish fairy tales, Baba Yaga, and Tolkien. She studied English Literature at Brown University and did graduate work in Computer Science at Columbia University before leaving to participate in the design and development of the computer game Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide. She decided to try her hand at novels. Temeraire / His Majesty's Dragon was her first.

Naomi Novik Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Throne of Jade and Black Powder War
SF Site Review: His Majesty's Dragon
SF Site Review: Temeraire / His Majesty's Dragon

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

Naomi Novik's first novel begins a series of novels, of which the first three have actually already been published, in quick succession. His Majesty's Dragon and its sequels concern the adventures of Captain Will Laurence and the dragon Temeraire during the Napoleonic Wars in a fantastical alternate history. So they immediately invite comparison to such historical fiction as the Hornblower books by C. S. Forester and the Aubrey/Maturin books by Patrick O'Brian, as well as to such science fictional versions of the Napoleonic Wars as David Weber's Honor Harrington books or David Drake's Lt. Leary books.And, to cap this sequence of comparisons, perhaps one might also think of another fantastical alternate history set during the Napoleonic Wars: Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. In the end such comparisons, I think, simply point out that this is a rich historical period to mine for adventure stories -- Novik's novel stands well on its own, a very enjoyable story.

The novel opens with Captain Laurence, of the British Navy, capturing a French ship. On the captured ship they find a dragon's egg. Dragons are very valuable creatures, it turns out, and are used as a sort of Air Force by both sides. Dragons are intelligent, and are able to talk from the time they hatch, but they will typically bond with just one person, usually one of the first people they see upon hatching. This egg is about to hatch, and it is necessary for one of Laurence's officers to agree to bond with the dragon: which is a problem, because that will mean leaving the Navy, and for that matter will put great stress on any possible normal human relationships such as marriage. The Aerial Corps, it seems, is a somewhat raffish and also secretive group. And when the new dragon hatches, he chooses Captain Laurence himself. Laurence names the dragon Temeraire.

This is particularly hard on Captain Laurence. He was a much admired and fast-rising naval Captain. He had intended to marry a young woman, a neighbour of his, but that seems impossible now. And he already has a stressful relationship with his father, who was opposed to his joining the Navy and will be far more opposed to his transfer to the Aerial Corps. But Laurence does his duty by England. He quickly learns that there are great compensations: Temeraire is extremely intelligent (more intelligent than Laurence), and very loyal. The two quickly become great friends. And, of course, it turns out that Temeraire is a very special kind of dragon.

The rest of the novel concerns mostly the early training of both Laurence and Temeraire. The War is not going very well, so it is necessary for them to train rapidly. This is complicated by the resentment of many in the Aerial Corps to Laurence, a Navy man, who has managed by happenstance to grab a very special assignment: Captain in charge of a unique dragon. Typically members of the Aerial Corps wait years for such a plum assignment. Laurence must also learn to deal with the rougher manners of his new comrades. Here Novik does a nice bit of characterization: her sympathetic main character is presented as having some rather stiff attitudes, quite appropriate for a gentleman of his era, but at variance with our contemporary mores. The reader is torn between cheering on the viewpoint character, and approving the freer habits of the Aerial Corps. And, really, both are partly correct. Finally, Laurence has to adjust to a variety of unexpected sorts of people in the Aerial Corps -- including, to his surprise, women in combat roles. As well as another gentleman who is not what he expects, and a French aristocrat who has come over to the British side.

The plot is not surprisingly resolved with a rousing battle. This is something of a disappointment -- there is a sense of unfairness in the rabbit Novik pulls out of her hat to save the day. In the final analysis the book turns on the very appealing character of the dragon Temeraire. He is both young and surprisingly mature, very independent but very loyal, intelligent but naïve. He is, really, delightful. On the whole His Majesty's Dragon is a great deal of fun to read, and I'll be eagerly gobbling up the subsequent books in the series.

Copyright © 2006 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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