Navy captain Will Laurence never would have guessed that the recovery of a dragon egg from a captured French frigate during the Napleonic Wars would throw his own life into upheaval. Now, bonded to newly hatched Temeraire, he has to abandon his career and face a new destiny among dragons and other aviators, and finds himself sharing a cameraderie and friendship with Temeraire he never would have thought possible. But the French aren't idle, either. They want their dragon back - and they are not above invading the whole of Britain, either.
As I said in a previous entry, the first part of this book simply blew me away. The build-up of the friendship between Laurence and Temeraire, Laurence's having to get used to his new way of life, Temeraire's childlike curiosity, his mutinous tendencies, his love for Laurence... all this touched me deeply. And when that other aviator came along trying to replace Laurence I was so angry on Temeraire's behalf (and Laurence's), that the reunion and confirmation of their partnership almost made me cry. I always enjoy focusing on few characters and their relationship, and this was just what I love most.
Unfortunately, I wasn't quite as happy with the second part of this novel. While, of course, it's necessary to introduce the other aviators and dragons this section dragged along quite a bit. There was too little action and a bit too much theory behind the Corps and all the dragons. Again, I know that the members of Temeraire's formation have to be introduced and properly described, but I would have wished for a bit more interaction, maybe even a description of how Temeraire fits in. He is, after all, as new to the Corps as Laurence is, so I'd have loved to get a glimpse at the training camp out of *his* point of view, especially given his insecurity at fitting in.
What I did like, though, was the introduction of females into the Corps. Given the setting at the onset of the 19th century one wouldn't expect women to play roles other than as damsels in distress, so I quite welcomed their riding one of the more dangerous dragon breeds.
On the other hand, the training camp offered quite an insight into the partnerships of other riders and their beasts. And while Laurence comes across as extremely accomodating and mindful of Temeraire's needs, the relationship between dragon and human seems generally based on mutual respect and friendship. Small wonder that riders don't quite find the time for other serious relationships. Perhaps because of the caring and loving environment, even between a not so intelligent beast (Vollie) and its rider, the fate of Levitas comes as an even harsher blow. I always find it difficult to bear disdain and negligence when a few simple words and actions could mean all the difference. And I also find it difficult to just look on and not interfere. Why couldn't Levitas be taken away from Rankin? Because *he* wouldn't have accepted another rider? Loyalty for sure is a fickle thing, and love is even more. Not everyone who gets it, deserves it - and still, Levitas couldn't help but be loyal and loving towards Rankin even if the only thing he got back were harsh words, negligence and, at the end, death. I sobbed throughout the whole scene of Levitas' death, I rooted for him to get just one small declaration of affection and worthiness from Rankin - and still, even the fake words Rankin managed to utter on Laurence's behest were enough to let him die peacefully... I'm still tearing up, just thinking and writing about it.
But actually, I do wonder about the set relationship between rider and dragon once the dragon decided on being harnessed. It says quite a bit about the position of the dragons that they can't decide on having a new rider. Novik depicts the beasts as sentient and more or less well aware of their position, and it seems a bit contradictory that, given the mass of available riders and the few dragons being bred, that a dragon that's abused can't be reassigned to a new rider - or even better, that riders such as Rankin that have little regard for their dragon and/or border on cruelty, can't be dismissed from the Corps. And even if that's not an option due to Rankin's family's influence, then it should have been possible to reassign him to duties that prevent him from actually coming in contact with the dragons. Laurence managed to save the next newly hatched dragon by sending Hollins - but what about the one after that. Will s/he then have to face a fate similar to Levitas'?
I'm not so sure what to think about the last part of this novel, the fight to drive back to French forces. I mean, all the training Temeraire and Laurence underwent in section 2 was rendered more or less useless because in the end, it was a previously unknown ability of Temeraire's that saved Britain. Which kind of leaves me feeling cheated.
I know that this whole review appears as if I, ultimately, was disappointed by "His Majesty's Dragon" - but nothing could be further from the truth. The well of emotion throughout this story makes up for almost everything. This may not be *the* perfect book, but despite its... I don't even want to call it flaws, but there's no other word that pops into my mind right now... it comes close. Novik offers a unique spin on historic events, adds fascinating and humane characters, explores relationships and emotions - and stirs well. The result is a novel of about 340 pages in length that I could hardly put down. I simply hope the sequels live up to my now very high expectations.
review originally written in 2008