The ninth and final book in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series—League of Dragons—is out on June 14. Alas, I have only read the first three books. While I catch up, my review of the book 1, His Majesty’s Dragon, is below.
Set during the Napoleonic Wars, His Majesty’s Dragon begins with a ship from the British navy, captained by William Laurence, capturing a French ship carrying a dragon egg. The egg was to be a gift to Napoleon from the Chinese emperor. A human-dragon bond must be built immediately, the egg is ready to hatch, and they are far from land, so Laurence is forced to become the dragon’s captain (he names him Temeraire) and leave the navy for the British air force, which is populated entirely by dragons and their captains and crews.
There are really only two characters in His Majesty’s Dragon: Captain William Laurence and Temeraire, his dragon. Temeraire’s innate curiosity, intelligence, and iconoclasm make him a prodigal learner and one of the more interesting dragons in speculative fiction. Laurence and Temeraire quickly develop an extremely close bond and much of the book is driven by that relationship. Sadly, other characters aren’t nearly as well drawn.
Novik does what any serious author of historical fantasy must do. That is, she gives great thought to what the full, logical implications of the introduced fantastical element would be. The much more informal culture of the English air force, or “Corps” as they are referred to colloquially in the book, offers a modern reader a less jarring prism through which to view the rest of England during the Napoleonic Wars. She also strives to represent English language and mannerisms of the day, as well as real-life events, accurately as well, largely succeeding.
After the seizure of Temeraire’s egg, His Majesty’s Dragon follows the training of Temeraire and Laurence in the British air force. There is a desultory sort of attempt at a love interest (although I appreciate that Novik approaches it with a healthy degree of subtlety) and a supposed friend turns out to be a bit of a villain, but the meat of the body is the training. Novik seems to taken some inspiration from fighter pilot movies. The structure of the story is the same: devoting the bulk of it to training, with a climactic fight at the end.
The training isn’t quite as engaging as it could be though, the book is action-light, and what little action there is doesn’t bother with plausible physics. It’s certainly interesting enough though, and I can say that the next two books are much better.