TITLE: His Majesty’s Dragon AUTHOR: Naomi Novik
GENRE: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
PUBLISHED: March 28th, 2006
Discovering His Majesty’s Dragon was something of a happy accident for me. Having come across Throne of Jade (Temeraire #2) in a desk drawer at work I was immediately interested in the book because of the Dragon on the cover. It was obviously a fantasy novel about dragons. After reading the blurb I knew I wanted to check the series out, but I didn’t read the book right then. There was a listing of books in the series on the first page and I was easily able to determine there was a book preceding this one that I would need to read first.
I have been intrigued by books about dragons and riders ever since I read the first book of the Inheritance Cycle, Eragon by Christopher Paolini back in August of 2008. The closest I ever came to finding a novel similar to the Inheritance Cycle series was in 2013 when I came across the Eon series by Alison Goodman, but Goodman’s series is only two books; although I really enjoyed those books the series ended way too soon for me.
His Majesty’s Dragon is a historical fiction novel based on the Napoleonic war, with a slight emphasis on the escapades of Villeneuve. The premise of the novel is an alternate reality where Dragons are real and are used as an important battle tool during the war.
There are two main characters, Captain Will Laurence and his Dragon Temeraire. Captain Laurence is a Naval Captain who takes pride in his duty to his country as an Officer in the King’s Navy. Captain Laurence has a strong sense of honor that seems to be fueled by his dysfunctional relationship with his Father Lord Allendale.
“Lord Allendale looked at Laurence’s coat with heavy disapproval and said nothing to his son at all. “
“It is an old quarrel at heart,” he said. “He would have had me go into the Church, like my brother; he has never counted the Navy an honorable occupation.”
“But truly, he has never approved my choice of career; I had to run away from home as a boy for him to let me go to sea. I cannot allow his will to govern me, for I see my duty differently than he does.”
Then Temeraire is hatched, and although Captain Laurence was not the one who had drawn the short straw, the Dragon chose him and a strong of honor and duty led to a set of circumstances that tore Captain Laurence away from his beloved job as a Naval Captain and thrust him into His majesty’s Aviator Corps.
“So if a hatchling let you put it into harness, duty forever after tied you to the beast. An aviator could not easily manage any sort of estate, nor raise a family, nor go into society to any real extent. They lived as men apart, and largely outside the law, for you could not punish an aviator without losing the use of his dragon.”
Temeraire is a character you’ll love instantly from his first words to Captain Laurence after his hatching ( I mean who doesn’t love talking Dragon’s). Novik’s use of anthropomorphism brings Temeraire to life, aside from the human characteristic of speaking and an uncanny intelligence Temeraire experiences a wide range of human emotion, sadness, happiness even jealously. At heart Temeraire is a sweet, Logical, inquisitive being ready to take on the world with an intense hunger for knowledge and a strong sense of independence.
“Temeraire’s quick perception and the concern in his voice were like a tonic for his weary unhappiness, and it made Laurence speak more freely than he meant to.”
“I have never met the King; I am not his property, like a sheep,” Temeraire said. “If I belong to anyone, it is you, and you to me. I am not going to stay in Scotland if you are unhappy there.”
“No, Laurence, I cannot promise such a thing,” he said. “I am sorry, but I will not lie to you: I could not have let you fall. You may value their lives above your own; I cannot do so, for to me you are worth far more than all of them. I will not obey you in such a case, and as for duty, I do not care for the notion a great deal, the more I see of it.”
“Laurence is my captain,” Temeraire said, the smallest hint of belligerence in his tone, and an emphasis on the possessive”
“Come now, what is this jealousy?” he said softly.”
Laurence and Temeraire don’t exactly take the aviator corps by storm, however Laurence’s unorthodox ways definitely set some of the ingrained practices in regards to Dragons on a tale spin. Laurence regards Temeraire the respect due to any intelligent being, and doesn’t see him as an animal or tool but a creature with feelings and intelligence.
“Laurence finished swallowing and said, “Yes, sir; you have the advantage of me.” “Berkley,” the man said. “Look here, what sort of nonsense have you been filling your dragon’s head with? My Maximus has been muttering all morning about wanting a bath, and his harness removed; absurd stuff.”
“Damned foolish idea if you ask me, dragons swimming; great nonsense.”
I am no history major, so I used Google to do a bit of research into the authenticity of the historical references. Accuracy of historical events, such as Villeneuve at Toulon and proper usage of what I will refer to as “terms” or “phrases” of the time such as Clodpole a noun referring to a stupid or foolish person, or Scrub a noun referring to a contemptible person (Not the 90s slang term made famous by the singing group TLC) and Bluestocking which refers to an intellectual or learn individual, a term derived from Elizabeth Montagu’s Bluestocking society. There’s even an appearance or two by Miss Montagu herself. These things all lend authenticity to Novik’s tale as a fantastic work of historical fiction.
“Villeneuve and his fleet have slipped out of Toulon under cover of an aerial raid against Nelson’s fleet; we have lost track of them.”
“Austria is mobilizing; she is coming into the war with Bonaparte again, and I dare say he will have to turn his attention to the Rhine instead of the Channel, soon enough.”
“It is not to be borne! An Imperial in the hands of some untrained Navy clodpole—”
“I have to tell you how very sorry I am. I know I have been playing the scrub.”
“You would be quite astonished at how much of a bluestocking I am become, Mother; he is quite insatiable.”
“Oh, I am sorry to hear it, my dear, but we are very happy to have you even briefly,” she said. “Have you met Miss Montague?”
Novik’s writing is direct and purposeful, yet warm and inviting. Though I am far from an expert in literary devices I find His Majesty’s Dragon to be an excellent example of fictional prose. Novik writes in such a way that the meaning of words is made clear by the context in which they are used while managing to use words such as auspicious, congenial, and henceforth without the tale becoming boring and monotonous making the reader feel relaxed and at home in the world she has created.
Novik’s imagination gives us an original take on dragon riding; her take on dragons in general is refreshing for me because it was unexpected. And her talent for writing grants the tale an air of reality.