Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Reviews: His Majesty's Dragon [2006] and Throne of Jade [2006]

I've read several books featuring dragons over the years: McCaffrey, Wrede, heck, even those Eragon books, and of course the beloved Dragonlance books of my youth. I eventually got to a point where I felt I had probably read enough dragon books to fill my quota. I admit, I was utterly wrong, possibly even crazy! Thank goodness Naomi Novik had the unexpected and brilliant idea to combine dragons with the general time period of the Napoleonic wars. In the first of the series, His Majesty's Dragon (published as Temeraire in the UK), Novik introduces us to Captain William Laurence, a stiff-necked Navy man who finds himself unexpectedly bound to a dragon hatchling (taken from a French ship) whom he names Temeraire. While this event means the end of his successful naval career, his hopes of marriage, and a fragile peace with his father, Laurence comes to love Temeraire and grows accustomed to his new position as an Aviator in the flying division of the British military, despite their more relaxed approach to life. With the threat of Napoleon's invasion looming from the other side of the channel, Laurence and Temeraire must train quickly to have any hope of performing their duty to defend England's shores.

In the direct sequel, Throne of Jade, Temeraire's provenance as a Chinese dragon (intended as a gift to Napoleon) becomes an issue with national security implications as the Chinese government demands his return, much to Laurence's dismay. Temeraire, Laurence, and their crew set off by sea on a diplomatic mission to China, encountering perils both at sea and on land. Once they reach the Orient, however, they find that dragons are treated as equal to humans in China--and Temeraire has a place among the rarest and most powerful dragons in the land. Will Temeraire and Laurence be parted forever on a foreign shore? [Spoiler alert: There are at least four other books in the series.]

Grade: A

Random Thoughts:

I am going to say the words "man-dragon love" to describe these books without irony or sexual innuendo, because the relationship between Laurence and Temeraire is adorable and loving and definitely the anchor of the series. I love it when they read together! However, Novik also writes well-rounded and (individually and collectively) awesome secondary characters that are a pleasure to encounter in the pages.

I like the way that Novik plays the strict, duty-bound Laurence against the innocent enthusiasm of Temeraire; it leads to a series of interesting discussions between them about property, the state of women, slavery, government, military service . . . Laurence begins to realize that perhaps his blind faith in duty and love of country may be somewhat misplaced.

Aerial battles between dragons, in which they fly in formation and are crewed in an ingenious manner similar to (but totally cooler than) naval ships, are the best thing EVER.

As usual, I listened to these books on audiobook (but then also read them in paperback when I was out of the car and couldn't help myself from finding out what happened next). The narrator of the series, Simon Vance, does an excellent job, especially considering all the accents that he is called on to perform.

Anyone have any other dragon books to recommend, now that my mind has been reopened?

ETA: Reviews of other books in this series here and here.

Dead Mother: No on both counts, YAY!
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