His Majesty’s Dragon
by: Naomi Novik
published by: Del Ray in 2004
First in the Temeraire Series.
This book was recommended to me by the proprietor of a small independent bookshop when I asked her if she might know of a book that would appeal to a well-read almost 15-year old boy. It had to have a satisfying adventure and strong characters.
After some back and forth in the kids section along the lines of: “read it, read it, read that too, didn’t like that one at all, etc.” The proprietor suddenly jumped up and rushed toward a shelf near the back and crouched down to pull out this book.
“It’s for adults,” she said, “but kids love it too. It has dragons and is set during the Napoleonic wars and is very well written.”
What more could I ask for?
Before handing it to my almost 15-year old, I thought I’d read a chapter or two to get a feel for the story and the writing. I was hooked as soon as the dragon’s egg was brought on board Captain William Laurence’s ship; a worthy prize taken from a French frigate by a young British hero.
We took it in turns to read the book, trying not to upset the other’s bookmark, until finally I just had to read it through; the story had me spellbound with the strong and emotionally genuine characters. I fell in love with Temeraire the dragon.
The story is well-researched with period specific details such as speech, manners, clothing and social attitudes of the time. The main characters in particular are very lovingly drawn as if they are intimates of the author. And well ... there are dragons!
Freshly hatched and eager to learn and test his skills - and to find what special power he might have - Temeraire comes to life on the page.
Ms. Novik seamlessly and ingeniously weaves dragons into the historic fabric of Napoleonic times. We watch as Temeraire grows and bonds with Captain Laurence who now, as the dragon-chosen handler, must join the aerial corps and leave his navy career behind. Both grow into their new roles with courage, determination and speed, as Napoleon waits for no man, or beast, in his drive for conquest, which only the British seem able to halt (or slow anyway).
As a side note, I love the few strong women in the story as well; so counter to an era when women were not expected to have adventures and explore life, but so fitting to this story.
I am eager to read more in the series ... and some day I must ask the author if she knows where to find the secret hunting grounds of dragons today. I feel sure she must have seen those magnificent creatures herself.