Title – His Majesty’s Dragon
Series – Temeraire #1
Author – Naomi Novik, Marianne Schmidt (translation into German)
Genre – Fantasy, speculative fiction, historical fiction
Length – 352 pages
Published – 6 Aug. 2007
My Rating – ★★★★
I stumbled upon His Majesty’s Dragon, the first book of the Temeraire Series by Naomi Novik some time ago. As you may know by now I am a huge fan of the Inheritance Cycle and also love historical fiction. The Temeraire Series Novik offers both – the perfect material for someone like me! I picked up the book in the bookshop back in my hometown in Germany and read the full series in the translated version (translated by Marianne Schmidt). The cool thing about German is, that we build as long words as we like and actually get away with it. This was exploited deftly for the translated title of the books. Each book title consists of two words, and the first one is always “Drachen” (German word for dragon as you might have guessed) followed by another word describing the key aspect of the book – the first book is called “Drachenbrut” (dragon offspring). The different variations of dragon-something makes a quite cool title and is the first aspect about the book that I instantly liked. The other was the intriguing cover of the book (I used the English one as the feature image but check out the German one below). I love how the typical scuttle (or bull’s-eye or just ships window) has been combined with the dragon theme in both covers.
But now to the story. We are in the Napoleonic era and in the middle of the conflict between Bonaparte’s France and His Majesty’s Britain. His Majesty’s Dragon kicks-off when Capt. Will Laurence of the Royal Navy captures a French frigate. When searching the apprehended frigate, an extremely valuable dragon egg is found. It was a gift from China to the recently anointed emperor Bonaparte. Dragons are an integrated part of the military in the story and form the Aerial Corps of the respective country. There are numerous kinds of dragons, from small and fast carriers to fire-breathing, or acid-spitting fighting dragons. All dragons can talk, have emotions and unique characters. Each dragon has its own crew depending on the size of the dragon (interesting fact: the acid-spitting dragons only accept women as their captains…pun intended?!). However, dragons are quite rare especially those with special abilities or that are simply super-massive. Therefore, the conquered egg is extremely important for the British’ military interest. The situation is especially precarious as the egg is about the hatch and it cannot be delivered to a Captain of the British Aerial Corps in time. Dragon’s choose their companion straight after they hatch, so when the inevitable happens the hatchling chooses Capt. Laurence, changing his so far respectable life as a British gentleman forever. Will Laurence finds himself forced to give up his position in the Royal Navy and joins the Aerial Corps with his dragon – whom he names Temeraire (referring to a beautiful ship). Most of the book focuses on Will’s and Temeraire’s military training and how they get used to each other. It turns out that Temeraire is one of the rarest of Chinese dragons bred for their intelligence and beauty (they are the official companions of the Chinese imperial family).
In the Aerial Corps, Capt. Laurence is confronted with rather informal social grace which is in stark contrast to the British-gentleman attitude Will holds in such high regard. I had to laugh in so many situations in which this classical demeanour clashes with the open-minded and extremely liberal mindset of Temeraire as well as with his new fellow soldiers that came along with his new position. Novik managed to depict these different mentalities so brilliantly that I was really drawn in the conversations as well as the plot itself. Temeraire questions most if not all the social norms and laws of Capt. Laurence’s beloved Britain, which results in extremely awkward (but funny from the reader’s perspective!!) conversations that the old-school gentleman meets with typical British humour to the point of desperation.
I was fascinated how the two companions struggle to find their place amongst their fellows in the Corps – both the dragons and men. Temeraire and Capt. Laurence have to form a team with their new crew and especially the new second in command Granby is rather sceptical of Capt. Laurence. However, when faced with the mistreatment of a fellow dragon by its captain and the intervention by Capt. Laurence, Temeraire and Will slowly find their place.
And not early enough as the news reach the camp that Bonaparte intends to invade Britain with an overwhelming aerial force. Britain sends all available forces to the coast to prevent Bonaparte’s plans but there is little hope of Britain’s comparatively small forces to prevail.
Novik tells the captivating story and masterfully blends historical facts with fantasy and fiction. I was mesmerised by the depth of the story, which addresses topics such as the conflict of social classes, the real military and cultural struggle between the British and French system as well as the highly esteemed Royal Navy itself. I can only recommend the Temeraire Series to everyone who loves dragon-fantasy books as well as historical fiction.
So, for everyone who still hesitates, go and get it because it is definitely worth it. For those of you who read it, did you like it as much as I did? What was your favourite part – let me know below.