A review by studiomikarts
His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik

adventurous challenging emotional funny fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes

5.0

It's been over a decade since I last read this book. I remembered loving it at the time, so much so that I preordered all the sequels as they came available, but after the fourth book, life got busy and I never finished reading the series, even though I owned it. Well, this year, with many recent disappointments while trying to discover new fantasy books, and after hearing about the rerelease of the Temeraire series in a set of beautiful, matching trade paperback covers, I was inspired to read His Majesty's Dragon again.

I was afraid my memories of loving the book (I remembered nothing but my feelings about it; everything else had completely evaporated from my mind) might end up being rose-tinted relics of the past. That actually happened to me with a gryphon book series earlier this year; in an odd way, being disappointed by an old favorite is heartbreaking. So I was half expecting to be let down when I flipped to the first page of His Majesty's Dragon this time. Imagine, then, my elation when I was desperately taken by the story from the very first line! And how much pleasure I experienced when, every time I opened the book to continue reading, I felt just as excited by the plot and as enamored with the characters, as I had the last time I set the book down ❤️

Naomi Novik's storytelling has done nothing less than restore my faith in fantasy. My entire life, this genre has been my absolute favorite, but for many years now, I just haven't encountered anything satisfying outside my frequent rereads of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and the Harry Potter series. I was legitimately questioning, when I picked up His Majesty's Dragon again, whether my tastes had actually changed as I've aged, and that the only fantasy I still liked were my childhood favorites. I am so grateful to feel completely reassured that I do indeed love fantasy books! I just need to be a little more selective when I give new books a try; from now on, if I don't feel gripped after reading the first page, I'll move on. I've spent too much time in recent years, trying to force myself to like a book, slogging through page after page, chapter after chapter, telling myself that I just need to give it more of a chance, perhaps reminding myself of how much other people have said they love it. As odd as it may sound, Temeraire has given me the confidence to respect my own tastes and opinions.

To get at last to talking about the contents of His Majesty's Dragon, I think my favorite part of the book is the deep, loving relationship between Laurence and Temeraire. There were so many moments that just touched my heart, and reminded me of my own feelings toward my non-human companions. I think, perhaps, the only reason I can write this review right now, is because of this heartwarming friendship. The reason being, just hours after I finished reading the book, my dog of 15 years passed away. I am still in the throes of grief as I write this, but rather than feeling like writing a book review is at odds with my feelings of loss and loneliness, instead I feel glad to finally have the motivation to put my ideas into words. The relationship between the principle captain and dragon in this story is so similar to those of us humans and our non-human friends, full of understanding, loyalty, love, comfort, and camaraderie that spans the boundaries of species (and confuses those who have not the pleasure of such a relationship).

But the relationship between Laurence and Temeraire isn't the only thing carrying this book. There is so much depth in the characters, different captains who have different relationships with their dragons (even entering the painful, heartbreaking realm of abuse and neglect), complex relationships between humans (mothers, fathers, daughters, lovers, commanders, subordinates, etc.), and of course the myriad of dragons who have varying levels of intelligence, sizes, features, desires, personalities, etc. The writing itself is so good that all of these things are very well presented, so that I was never confused about which dragon can do what, or why something was happening, or where the story was going next. I will say, however, that my love for late 19th and early 20th century British and French writing is probably a boon for me; if you're not good with the original Sherlock Holmes stories or the English translation of The Count of Monte Cristo, for example, you might find this writing style challenging. It is so akin to older such writing (at least that which I'm familiar with) I actually took a moment to see whether the author was British herself (nope, she's a fellow American 😊). After the characters and writing, the plot is the next feature I'd like to highlight. I remember when I first read this book, I had no interest in history whatsoever. The idea of Napoleonic Wars-era dragons was wacky and wild, which is why I gave it a shot, but I didn't expect to actually enjoy the historical aspects, which I did, both then and again this time! Just goes to show that well-written fantasy can make everything it's associated with awesome 😄

Something I liked about the end of this book is the excerpts from the "sketchbook of Sir Edward Howe". It's a very fun addition to the world of Temeraire and a nice way to ease the reader off the high of the final, exciting chapters of the story. The inclusion, as well, of an excerpt from the next volume in the series was also a great way to get readers excited about continuing their adventures with Temeraire. Well, for this reader, it's not just exciting but worrying! I want Laurence and Temeraire to be happy! I need to get reading Throne of Jade right away, so that the versions of that pair who live in my mind can overcome the challenge that has been set before them by this final teaser!

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