REVIEW: His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

REVIEW SUMMARY: Surprisingly engaging read that I honestly couldn’t put down.

MY RATING:

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.

MY REVIEW:

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.

9 thoughts on “REVIEW: His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik”

  1. I think I’ll stick with the historical fiction of O’Brian and company and the real-life histories of this period. No need to inject dragons, the reality was interesting enough!

    :O

  2. Read this recently and also enjoyed it. My only complaints were that there seemed to be too much training and character development/relationship woes and not enough battles.

    I’m also a big fan of novels covering the Napoleonic era – Hornblower, Ramage, Bolitho and so on – and they tend to be much more gritty and bloody.

    I still enjoyed HMD, but felt it lacked that harder edge.

  3. Funny you mention OBrien Fred, if you look at the reviews on Amazon for this book, you’ll see several references to the similarities between he and Novik’s work. At the end of the day, fiction is fiction, after all.

  4. Novik has freely admitted that novels like the O’Briens were as much inspiration for her as McCaffrey.

    While I think the sequels are weaker (the second in particular), the first one was a lot of fun for me.

  5. Yeah, definitely a good yarn to read on a lazy weekend in the sun in the back yard.

    I also think Novik’s dragons are an improvement over McCaffrey’s because they actually have full-flushed personalities on par with their human counterparts and are contributing members of their aerial fighting team, where McCaffrey’s seemed for the most part to be little more than big, flying horses.

  6. I think McCaffrey knew her audience loved horses and figured flying horses would be even better, and she was right (if you measure success in number of books sold.)

    Although I bet it doesn’t happen, if the future of Noviks’ series has the dragon becoming smarter than the rider it will transcend the simple story it started out as.

  7. Gabe – I agree that the book is slight.

    Simon – True statement, Forester’s work (which I enjoyed a lot) is much more realistic. I didn’t think about the Hornblower series until you mentioned it and I now think that’s why I enjoyed His Majesty’s Dragon as much as a I did. It reminded me of the fun I had reading those in my younger days.

    Also, on another forum somebody misinterpreted my comment about why I now understood why it was nominated for a Hugo. As was obvious to almost everybody but me, the Hugo’s are a popularity contest. As such, the popular view is likely to carry the day, and in this case we have a book that caters to the popular audience. I had no idea why it was nominated before reading it, and now I do.

    And apologies to Anne!

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