Book #1 of the Temeraire series, aka His Majesty’s Dragon.
See also: Naomi Novik’s site; Library Thing
William Laurence is Captain of the Reliant, an English ship, fighting the French forces of Napoleon. A few weeks out of the post of Madeira he captures a French frigate, but within the hold lies a far greater prize than the vessel herself, for there is a dragon egg. But before he can celebrate his good luck Laurence learns that the egg is near hatching. And the prize money for a feral dragon will be much reduced from that of an egg. It would also be a loss to the British war effort as they are in sore need of every dragon they can fly, so Captain Laurence decides that one of his officers must attempt to harness the beast. However, the officer chosen by lottery does not succeed, and instead Laurence himself finds the dragon talking to him. This could mean the end of life as he knows it, for all know the aviators, those who fly the dragons are not well thought of. They live apart from the rest of society, and their habits are not those of gentlemen, nor indeed to they have the time to spend with family and friends, for they are constantly needed to control their dragons. But despite this fact, he knows his duty and so accepts his new life as the dragon Temeraire captain.
This is a hugely enjoyable and readable novel, blending, as it does, the Napoleonic era with a fantasy element. So if you like your historical novels, or are a fan of dragons there will be something here for you to enjoy.
That being said, perhaps Novik could have given the novel slightly more of the tone of the period. This is no Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, most of the narration is straight forward and pretty modern in tone. Novik does a good job of getting across the proprieties of the age in the opening chapters, but when others do not observe the rules of society they do not come across as being overly rude as perhaps they should. Nevertheless, it is still a great read, and I’ll look forward to reading the others in the series.
The cover of my copy of the book proclaims it the finest fantasy debut since Robin Hobb; Iâ€™m not sure if the world building here is actually as intricate or developed as Hobbâ€™s. This, however, may be because it is based on the reality of the Napoleonic wars and so Novik is not obliged to create an entire world and society. She simply has to adopt it so that her dragons can fit. This she has done. And in a gripping and entertaining fashion, there are just over 400 pages of this story. I could easily have devoured twice that amount.
There is also a lot of similarities with the Pern books, the way that the humans associated with the dragons live differently to other people. The fact that a dragon must be tamed after hatching, the way they only accept one caption. But there are also more than a few differences, so the common aspects don’t detract from the novel.