REVIEW SUMMARY: Surprisingly engaging read that I honestly couldn’t put down.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Will Laurence is a British navy captain during the time of Lord Nelson and when Napoleon was threatening to engulf all of Europe. But in a bit of alternative history, dragons are real and take (multiple) riders into battle. Laurence ends up a rider through what he considers bad luck, but ends up making the friend of a lifetime in his dragon Temeraire. The two then ride for the King in defense of the islands from the might of the French.
PROS: Very fun story, sympathetic characters, a setting that isn’t at all fantasy save for the dragons (strange, but true.)
CONS: Some of this has been done before by Ann McCaffrey
BOTTOM LINE: If you want a quick read, this book will hook you in and end up well worth your time.
In a story more reminiscent of Harry Turtledove than Ann McCaffrey, this dragon-tale latched on to me such that I couldn’t stop reading it until I was done. I actually suspended reading Schismatrix to read this, if you can believe it. I read the first chapter from Naomi’s web site after this book was nominated for a Hugo and I had to buy it and finish it. It’s a light read to be sure, but I am totally shocked at how much fun it was.
Honestly, this isn’t really a fantasy book. It’s an alternative history novel. You might even stretch to call it a sci-fi book if you assume the science fiction is that dragons exist in the real world. Novik has done her homework, the facts around Trafalgar and Dover are dead-on, and the battles extremely realistic. She also does both sides of the conflict justice by portraying Napoleon as a military genius and showing how he would adapt his strategy and tactics given dragons as a weapon. I found myself exploring the idea of aerial combat in the 19th century along with Novik and frankly having a good time doing it. Some alternative history stretches the imagination too much, but this one doesn’t. She did a great job keeping it real enough to keep it interesting. Another strength of this novel is in the characters (including the dragons.) They honestly develop as the story progresses in a way that, while a bit predictable, seems sincere and believable.
I can see why the voters nominated it for a Hugo after all. I give this novel 3 and a half stars. If you’re a fan of historical fiction or just like the idea of dragons in a unique setting then I don’t think you’ll be dissapointed with this one. Definately don’t let the word dragon in the title scare you off if you dislike fantasy novels.