Have you ever thought, “Why can’t there be more dragons in literature? Everything’s better with dragons”? Well, Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon (first book in the Temeraire series) proves that to be true. Imagine a Patrick O’Brien novel only with dragons and you’ll have an idea what to expect from Novik’s book. In this alternate universe, the Napoleonic wars are raging and besides the army and the navy there is an aerial corp made up of dragons and the men and women who fly on them. William Laurence is a captain in the Royal Navy, with a bright future ahead of him that takes a drastic twist when he captures a French ship with a dragon egg ready to hatch. Dragon’s bond with an individual and are with them for the life of the person. The egg hatches and the dragon Temeraire chooses Laurence as his handler. This is kind of a big deal because being a dragon handler is a 24/7 job, which makes having a normal life virtually impossible (you and your dragon have to live away from “polite society” most of the time, and like most large carnivores, dragon’s blow through a lot of large herbivores in a meal). Much of the story revolves around Laurence trying to adjust to the ways of the aerial corp and Temeraire finding his way as a dragon.
This book is really fast pace and a quick read. Lots of dragon-training and in aerial combat with their French counterparts. It’s also fascinating to see how Novik mixes the history with her fantasy. There are references to events that actually happened and Novik adds in the dragons’ role. However, my favorite part was the detail Novik put into the dragons: There are hundreds of breeds of dragons, from acid spitting Longwings used in attack formations to the “small” Pascal’s Blue used for courier and reconnaissance work. They all have their particular coloring and character traits. Longwings, for example, will only accept female handlers so there are a few women in the areal corp.
Also if you like the book there are currently eight books in this series. In the back of my edition were silhouettes of the dragons and an excerpt from a study of different dragon breeds. There is also a fan community with a wiki and lots of stuff on the #Tameraire tag on Tubmlr.