Until now, dragon stories have never really captured my imagination, but maybe I’ve been reading the wrong ones. I could never get everybody’s fascination with the dragon in The Hobbit– his appearance felt brief and simple in a book styled primarily for an audience of children. Beyond that, I can’t think of any dragons that have made any major impression on me. However, the darling Temeraire, the dragon from Naomi Novik’s debut novel, His Majesty’s Dragon, is charming, intelligent, and witty. He reminds me of Falkor from The NeverEnding Story. In fact, the relationship between Temeraire and his captain is similar to the trusting bond between Bastian and Falkor, which brought up pleasant feelings from my childhood, and I found myself envying Captain Laurence. It almost makes me want to watch The Neverending Story again… almost. Much like toothpaste and orange juice, adulthood tends to ruin the flavor of childhood classics. I probably won’t risk it.
In an alternate history, both sides of the Napoleonic War are aided by aerial fleets of dragons. Captain Laurence, the unflappable leader of a British navy ship, unwittingly becomes the adopted partner of newly born dragon, Temeraire, and is forced to leave his service with the British Navy and join the air squadrons. Laurence and Temeraire must adjust to this new lifestyle, as well as to each other. They experience adventure, danger, and dragon puberty. It’s a boy-and-his-dog tale, but with a man and his Imperial dragon.
His Majesty’s Dragon reminded me of one of my most favorite books, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. They both have the same Englishy essence, the utterly proper etiquette of their main characters, and both stories are set during the Napoleonic Wars. Who knew that early 19th century imperialism would eventually spawn such charming and magical stories?
The story moves quickly, although it drags on a bit toward the latter half of the novel, and it ends sooner than expected. There are more books in the series, which I may revisit at another time, although I hesitate to make that commitment. This novel ends in a satisfyingly happy way, but my expectations– much like typical “boy and his dog” books– suspect that not all stories in the series will end so happily.