His Majesty’s Dragon
© 2006 Naomi Novik
William Laurence’s career was all set: a ship of his own, a fair French prize in his sights, and fiance waiting for him at home. But then, in the hold of the French ship, his men found a rare treasure: a dragon egg. To have gotten it home to England would have netted him a fortune – but now the thing’s hatched, and worse yet, bonded with him. A dragon bond is unbreakable, and to raise the creature into His Majesty’s Service, Laurence must be its captain, putting aside his hopes of promotions and wedded bliss. His life is now the dragon’s, who he names Temeraire after another French taking. His Majesty’s Dragon introduces readers to an extraordinary setting, a mixture of fantasy and the Napoleonic wars, in which human cultures have domesticated dragons and forged relationships with them, and make heavy military use of them.
Combat-wise, there are scattered scenes in His Majesty’s Dragon, in the last third of the work in which Laurence’s wing is stationed guarding the English channel while another wing attempts to goad the French fleet into open battle His Majesty’s Dragon is chiefly the story of Laurence and Temeraire’s bonding, of a naval officer unexpectedly and unhappily thrown into the secret world of the Aerial Corps learning to love his new friend. Temeraire has a personality all of his own; dragons can communicate with humans, and some are remarkably intelligent. (Some are remarkably thick, too, especially if they’ve been bred for speed rather than intelligence.) The author works in bits of dragon lore, like the attachment to shiny baubles, and as we learn of dragon species across the world, the savvy reader will realize they’re inspired by the differing interpretations of dragons in our own cultures –think of the ‘whiskers’ on Asian dragon-types. Dragons place unique demands on their men which make traditional lives impossible: informality is the norm in the Aerial Corps, and some dragon species will only bond with women, giving this Napoleonic story a decidedly interesting twist as the fairly formal Laurence attempts to figure out how to handle himself fighting alongside women and girls.
His Majesty’s Dragon didn’t have much in the way of historical plotting – it’s mostly about the captain and his mount bonding – but this series is definitely one to revisit, a winsome twist to a reliable fount of Napoleonic storytelling. I’m looking forward to learning more about this world of dragons and men (and women!), and the unique flavor they’ll undoubtedly add to the drama of the Napoleonic wars.