Book 1 in the Temeraire series
First published in 2006
My rating: 4.5 out of 5
The Short Of It:
I loved this fun fantasy novel set in an alternate history in which dragons exist. It was a joy to read and I can't wait to continue the series!
The Long Of It:
I was unfamiliar with fantasy writer Naomi Novik until I absolutely devoured her standalone novel "Uprooted" earlier this year, and I was thrilled to learn she has a long-running series that I can sink my talons into.
The Temeraire series is historical fantasy, set during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s -- with the very important addition of dragons to the equation. Dragons are used in battle on both sides -- for their own abilities like spitting acid, for carrying men to shoot guns and drop bombs almost like a plane, and of course to fight other dragons. In Britain, dragon handlers are known as aviators and are exclusively trained for the job from childhood.
British navy captain Will Laurence is plenty happy doing his duty to king and country on his ship, but when his crew captures a French vessel carrying the very precious cargo of a dragon egg his life is forever changed. The egg hatches when the boat is still weeks from shore, and a human must bond with the dragon to prevent it from going feral. Will just so happens to be the person the dragon -- who comes out of the egg already knowing how to speak -- chooses to be his aviator, forging a nearly unbreakable bond between man and dragon. Will names his dragon Temeraire after a famous ship, and thus begins the life of a very special dragon and his unusual aviator.
Temeraire is highly intelligent, curious, thoughtful and kind, and his unique start in life along with his rare breed make him a bit different from other dragons, an endearing combination that makes it impossible for readers not to fall in love with him. Will is almost as likable, with his gentlemanly manners and utmost concern for Temeraire's happiness and welfare.
The dragons are part pet, part partner, part best friend and -- most important to Britain -- part weapon, and Will and Temeraire are immediately sent to start training together once they reach land. I loved getting acquainted with the unique world of dragons and aviators, as well as the mechanics of a militaristic battle involving dragons, and I thought Novik did a great job painting bright, vivid, descriptive scenes. I also enjoyed her writing, which was easy to read but gave the book a definite 19th century flavor.
I adored the whimsical, exciting adventure of "His Majesty's Dragon" and I'm looking forward to diving into book 2 -- in which Will and Temeraire journey to China -- soon!