HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON
by Naomi Novik
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Patrick O'Brien wrote a lengthy series of detailed novels that took place during the Napoleonic Wars. Anne McCaffrey wrote a lengthy series of novels that look at the use of dragons in aerial combat and the close relationships that built up between the dragons and their riders. In His Majesty's Dragon, Naomi Novik has combined elements of these two authors to write about the dragon aviators who kept England safe from Napoleonic invasion.
The novel opens aboard the British ship Reliant, under the command of Captain Will Laurence. The British have just captured the French ship Amitiť and taken her as a prize. A crate moved onto the Reliant proves to hold a dragon's egg which the ship's doctor announces is on the verge of hatching. As the British dragon corps is vastly outnumbered by the French's and dragons form an affinity upon hatching, Laurence calls together his officers and appoints one to take control of the dragon when it is born. The dragon has other ideas, however, and bypasses the selected seaman and makes for Laurence himself, who thereby finds himself removed from the British Navy to become an aviator.
Here Novik introduces a major difference from McCaffrey's Pern novels. While on Pern dragonriders are generally honored, in Novik's alternative eighteenth century, becoming an aviator is tantamount to becoming a leper. Laurence realizes that with his relationship with the dragon Temeraire, he can say farewell to any chance of marrying his sweetheart and his father practically disowns him for leaving the relatively noble ranks of the Navy for the life of an aviator.
The majority of the novel focuses on Laurence and Temeraire making the transition to the ranks of the aviator corps. Coming from the highly regimented Navy, Laurence has some difficulty with his entrance into the much more lax aviator corps. In many ways, the corps seems a little too lax in its regimentation, although that may be an effect of the manners from that period mostly being seen through the eyes of authors such as Jane Austin.
Although His Majesty's Dragon is set during the historical period of the Napoleonic Wars, the admittance of dragons does not have any noticeable influence on the history of the world until near the end of the book (when it is used to great affect). England, Spain, France, the New World, all have followed the same path of history, despite dragons having been used for centuries, dating back to Rome. While she has managed to integrate the dragons and their riders into the British military and, to a lesser extent, the culture, their lack of influence on the history of the world is a little awkward.
His Majesty's Dragon is only the first of a series of novels, with the second and third volumes, Throne of Jade and Black Powder War published immediately after the first one. Novik may address the issues of the effects of dragons on world history, although even without that aspect to the novel, Novik has created an interesting and appealing world inhabited by her dragons.
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