Review of HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON by NAOMI NOVIK
(first in the TEMERAIRE series)
This is one of those rare books where the attention to detail is so precise and the worldbuilding so well done that the words wrap around you and pull you in. The protagonist, Laurence, lives in an alternate history where dragons are used for combat during the Napoleonic Wars. I love when history meets fantasy.
This series has a very fresh and appealing tone, one of honor and chivalry that rings with affectionate nostalgia. The sense of manners and decorum lends a lighter, upbeat air to the narrative. Even when tragedy or betrayal invades the plot, concepts such as duty and loyalty make a complicated world a little simpler.
From start to finish, Laurence remains a likable character. A navy man, he lives by strict morals and ethics, a combination of military imposed rules and his own sense of right and wrong. He follows a clear decorum and respects tradition, though he always tries to do right by the people (and dragons) around him. Of course, this personality type causes some tension when Laurence must give up his navy career for a different path, one in which everyone functions by entirely different, more informal, social guidelines that Laurence struggles to understand and adopt after years of careful courtesy.
Laurence's relationship with the dragon Temeraire echoes with the tenderness of a couple. Though not a romantic match, loyalty and increasing ardor binds these two together. Their constant, mutual consideration for the other adds to their individual charm. Temeraire's straightforward and engaged attitude, not to mention his natural intelligence, are amusing on a dragon, and he's full of additional surprises and oddities. One often wonders why he works within human systems with so little complaint and no effort to escape for freedom and independence, but the answer is clear: he values Laurence's friendship (if that word is strong enough) above all else.
Despite the looming theme of war, HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON presents an uplifting snapshot of humanity. Laurence's devotion to Temeraire specifically and all dragons by extension inspires faith in our better qualities, such as love and devotion. I cannot predict whether the series will head towards a darker outlook, but I finished the first book with the comforting sense that admirable values will persevere, despite cruel odds.