I have just finished reading Naomi Novik's Temeraire/His Majesty's Dragon. With its imminent North American release, the hype surrounding this novel continues to grow. Hype is a wonderful thing, providing exposure to books and series. Yet too much hype is never beneficial. Indeed, if expectations are too high, readers are often left wanting.
So does His Majesty's Dragon live up to the hype? It certainly does! And then some!
In this very auspicious debut, Naomi Novik has found a new twist to the eternal dragon story. And she did it with style! Although expectations were high, His Majesty's Dragon was a terrific joyride! Honestly, I was impressed with the author and her creation. In a market where dark and gritty fantasy epics are the norm, Novik has brought some fun back into the genre.
Fear not, this is not your typical alternate history novel. Novik utilizes the Napoleonic Wars as a backdrop, true. But solely to set the tone, to provide the familiar environment. Historical figures such as Nelson and Napoléon are, of course, part of this story. Yet they remain in the background or play minor roles in the greater scheme of things. Some would say that there is very little worldbuilding involved, but I disagree. The manner with which the author has integrated the dragons into our own world is brilliant. Initially, I was afraid that I would have a hard time "buying" this premise. But Naomi Novik's narrative rapidly sucks you in, and I soon found myself turning those pages, eager to learn more.
Weighing in at 342 pages, His Majesty's Dragon is a relatively short novel. Novik sets a brisk pace, and you may find yourself going through this book in just a few sittings. But don't let its size deter you. There is not a dull moment in this book, which makes for a very pleasant read.
The characterizations revolve around an unlikely pair: Captain Will Laurence and the dragon Temeraire. Both of them are well realized and share a very interesting relationship. The interaction between them and the bonds of friendship they forge lie at the heart of the tale. Novik has injected new life in our perception in regards to dragons. The other characters and dragons are not as fully drawn, but this will undoubtedly change in the upcoming sequels.
His Majesty's Dragon is fun and unmistakably original. Moreover, the fact that it's accessible to readers of all ages -- newcomers to the genre and aficionados alike -- makes this book a little gem worth discovering.
Will people be talking about Novik's Temeraire a decade from now? Perhaps. . . But one thing is for certain: His Majesty's Dragon will make a lot of noise in 2006!
And the good people at Random House have been kind enough to send me bound galleys of the next two volumes in the trilogy. Which means that I won't have to wait that long to read about Temeraire's next adventures! Ah, the perks of being a book reviewer. . .:-)
Don't expect this novel to challenge you the way works by R. Scott Bakker, Steven Erikson or Kim Stanley Robinson would. This is pure, unadulterated fun! And as such, I think that Naomi Novik provides a much-needed breath of fresh air in a genre which has grown rather dark and violent. Not that I don't enjoy such books/series, but His Majesty's Dragon is a welcome change from that trend.
The final verdict: 8/10