I’m not sure why I’ve never picked up on this series before. I am enormously fond of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, and I have enjoyed Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series of naval life during the Napoleonic wars. It wouldn’t be the most inaccurate description to say that Novik has created the apparent love child of those two series.
As His Majesty’s Dragon opens, Will Lawrence is the captain of a British warship that has just captured a French ship and is in the process of appropriating the loot. He and his crew are shocked to discover that among the bounty is a dragon egg. Dragons, you see, are key weapons in the world’s armies, and Britain is going to need every one it can get to hold off the French emperor, Napoleon. For Captain Lawrence, the find is a mixed blessing, especially when the hatched dragonet, Temeraire, chooses him as its handler, a permanent bond. While he earns a large monetary reward for capturing such valuable cargo, it means Lawrence must leave his beloved navy and learn to how to fight from the back of a dragon in the Air Corps.
Amidst all the tension and drama of war, there are also gently comic episodes, as Temeraire passes through the draconic equivalences of infancy, toddlerhood, and adolescence. The bond between him and his captain is quite sweet, and makes them both very easy to root for. Other dragon/captain pairings are equally charming, as are the supporting characters.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of this book was how Novik so smoothly incorporated dragons into real history. At first, I thought it was going to be “oh my gosh what’s this giant egg, holy cow it’s a dragon, what are we going to do with that” situation, but instead she cleverly built a world where dragons have always existed in the wild, and have been “tamed” for many generations. It creates a more seamless integration between fantasy and history, and it was fun to read casual references to past (real) battles and the role played by (imaginary) dragons.
I cannot end this review without tipping my cap to Sarah (aka beserene over at LibraryThing), whose recent reviews of each book in the series to date both introduced me to the series and whetted my appetite for tracking it down at the library. I’ll definitely be continuing on to see what happens next to Capt. Lawrence and Temeraire.