18 January 2013

Mythical Creatures Be Damned: A Review of His Majesty's Dragon, Naomi Novik

My experience with dragons is minimal at best, much to your surprise I am sure.  Listen, you can be a SF nerdlington without actually going whole hog and arriving to work looking like this.   Beyond the occasional movie, I'm not really into dragons. In fact, I don't really read too many books with fantastical mythical creatures besides Sandworms. Is the Maker high enough up the pop cultural scale to be included in the mythical creature pantheon yet?  Someone needs to work on that. 

My first foray into fantasy was through the Dragonriders of Pern.  So much has been written about  the late Anne McCaffrey that any sentiments by me will only be a small drop in an ocean of acclaim. The best way to shower Anne with love is to read her books.  Through Stainless Steel Droppings you can join the Dragonflight Group Read and dragon your heart out. Strangely enough over the past decade of reading SF seriously, Pern has been my only real dragon read.  That is until this past weekend, when I picked up His Majesty's Dragon subsequently failing in love with Temeraire. Who's that you ask?, why a Chinese dragon of significant character who is the star of not one but a series by Naomi Novik.  

His Majesty's Dragon opens with the discovery and subsequent hatching, you guessed it, of a dragon. The fast-moving plot sweeps you quickly into this alternative historical story. The Napoleonic War is the backdrop with one tiny, ever-so, okay not really, addition; DRAGONS. And we are not taking one dragon but breeds of dragons all across the world with their own distinct abilities, and intelligence. Some quirky facts:  Newfoundland is a breeding ground. Dragons while developing in the shell learn language resulting in the ability to speak upon hatching. Your world is richer by knowing this.  

At the half way point I questioned whether my interest would wane. So far, I am still intrigued thanks greatly to the historical backdrop. I am a sucker for historically-based novels. The greater the appeal if the author accurately portrays details while taking liberties to allow for fantastical elements. My only complaint with the book is with Captain Laurence, Temeraire's human handler.  The stereotypical constraints that confine the 19th century gentleman has bound this character into too tight a world view. The chap is a pill. My hope is Novik in her later books moves beyond this a-typical archetype allowing Laurence the ability to grow as a character. His two dimensional personality if not expanded by book 2 will in all probability have me casting this series aside. But before I proclaim such a fate, let's give the author the benefit of the doubt and carry-on. After all, the next book takes Temeraire and Laurence to China, 19th century China, and until my time machine is repaired this book is my only means by which to travel there.