His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

Life is weird sometimes.  I stumbled upon The Coming of Dragons (The Darkest Age I)  in the grocery store.  As I happened to have dragons on the mind I found out that His Majesty’s Dragon (the first in a series by Naomi Novik) was available for free for [amazon-product region=”us” text=”Kindle” type=”text”]B00154JDAI[/amazon-product]users.  So grabbed it.  Who cares if you don’t read it right away if it is free. A free book is a free book, etc.

But when I couldn’t get a hold of The Book of the Sword (Darkest Age II) right away I went ahead and kept the dragon theme going by reading HMD.  It turned out to be a very interesting experience.  I am a bit torn about the series but glad I read the book.

Here is what Publishers Weekly had to say:

In this delightful first novel, the opening salvo of a trilogy, Novik seamlessly blends fantasy into the history of the Napoleonic wars. Here be dragons, beasts that can speak and reason, bred for strength and speed and used for aerial support in battle. Each nation has its own breeds, but none are so jealously guarded as the mysterious dragons of China. Veteran Capt. Will Laurence of the British Navy is therefore taken aback after his crew captures an egg from a French ship and it hatches a Chinese dragon, which Laurence names Temeraire. When Temeraire bonds with the captain, the two leave the navy to sign on with His Majesty’s sadly understaffed Aerial Corps, which takes on the French in sprawling, detailed battles that Novik renders with admirable attention to 19th-century military tactics. Though the dragons they encounter are often more fully fleshed-out than the stereotypical human characters, the author’s palpable love for her subject and a story rich with international, interpersonal and internal struggles more than compensate.

As practically every reviewer has noted the genre here is really, as Rachel Hartigan Shea put it in her WaPo review, “the dashing Brits-on-ships genre perfected by Patrick O’Brian.”  The dragons are the only fantasy aspect of the book and it really is historical fiction not fantasy.  But for puting dragons in just such a setting Novik deserves credit because  it is a creative twist and she pulls it off.

There are a couple of potential problems (or were for me):

The plot isn’t particularly gripping or suspenseful.  Part of this is the issue I have noted before with books in a series: they tend to focus more on establishing the larger story/universe and introducing – and developing – characters than stand alone books often do.  So the plot isn’t as important as enjoying and getting to know this new world you have discovered.

It also has to do with the style and flow of the book.  It really is a historical fiction and has the style and pace of the time period in which it is set.  It is not fast paced nor does it have a clear plot that grabs you from the go.  The focus is on the Temeraire and Captain Laurence and their relationship.  This didn’t bother me too much with HMD because the unique world the book describes was enough to keep me reading.  There are action scenes and some tense moments, but if you like tight plots and suspense you will be disappointed I think.

The issue that bothered me was the unique character and personality of Captain Laurence.  He is a gentleman and, despite his troubled relationship with his father, has certain expectations that come from his class and social standing.  The Air Corps is very different than the Navy and this provides a great deal of conflict.  While I can appreciate the portrayal Novik produced, and see the role this social conflict plays in the story, to me it got old after a while.  I appreciated how he adjusted to an unexpected change in his life and future. I appreciated how he came to love his dragon and sacrificed the life he had known largely out of a sense of duty to his country and a sense of fair play to the men under his command.  I just didn’t need to know how every particular social situation challenged Laurenc’s habits and personality; what offended him and how often he held his tongue.   His tendency to be offended everytime her turned around made his a less apealing character, IMO.

As I understand it, Novik developes social class issues, and even the relationship between dragons and humans, more fully in the rest of the series.  And maybe she does so in interesting and thought provoking ways.  But the personality of the central character, and the significant role this aspect of his character played, made the book less enjoyable to me.  It may be personal taste.  I have not read much historical fiction and little or none in the O’Brian lineage if you will.  As always, your mileage may vary.

But these are quibles for the most part.  Novik has created a unique character, and a unique series, in Temeraire.  If you enjoy historical fiction, particularly the Napoleonic wars period, you should enjoy His Majesty’s Dragon.  Of course, if that is your area of interest you probably already have.  If on the other hand, you are always on the look out for interesting genre twists you will likely enjoy this series as well.  And of course, if you have a Kindle the book is free (at least for the time being) so why not check it out.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).


  1. Peter Jackson has optioned the books which is how I found them. I read the first one but was not intrigued enough to continue the series, although one of my kids has read all of them.

    Nice way for Jackson and WETA to use their Nazgul software!

  2. Peter Jackson has optioned the books which is how I found them. I read the first one but was not intrigued enough to continue the series, although one of my kids has read all of them.

    Nice way for Jackson and WETA to use their Nazgul software!

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