His Majesty's Dragon


Naomi Novik


Fantasy / Science Fiction


Date Reviewed:

October 18, 2020

is Majesty's Dragon is a solid fantasy story, but not spectacular. It is clearly written to be the first book in a series, and indeed, at the time of this review, there are nine novels in the Temeraire sequence. There are three major parts to the book - in the first section, the reader learns how the British capture a French frigate. The cargo on the French ship is a dragon's egg, which is quite a treasure. The English crew gleefully calculate their bonus for delivering such a prize to the Naval command. But the egg hatches before the Reliant can return to base, and out pops a young dragon, named Temeraire. Dragons bond immediately after hatching, and Temeraire bonds with Captain Laurence - suddenly, instead of a naval officer, Laurence finds himself a member of His Majesty's aerial corps.

The second part of His Majesty's Dragon is a bit of snoozer. Temeraire and Laurence go through training. This is really just an excuse for Novik to introduce the readers to the key figures of the aerial command that will presumably appear throughout the rest of the series. If this had been a stand-alone novel, I am sure an editor would have excised this whole section and demanded more adventure and action. By the way, Temeraire spends time training to fly upside down, which is ridiculous. Birds and bats cannot fly upside, they cannot flap their wings in the "opposite" direction. Nor could a dragon hover like a hummingbird. Hummingbird flap their wings 100x per second, it would be impossible for dragon-sized wings to move so rapidly. During training, Laurence is surprised to learn that some of the dragon pilots are women. I would have expected that this remarkable circumstance would have been common knowledge throughout England, given the Victorian English opinions of women's capabilities.

The third part of the book involves actual combat between French and English dragons. It is the most interesting part of the tale, though it is marred by the deux ex machina of Temeraire's breath weapon.

Dragons can speak in this novel. Indeed, as soon as Temeraire is hatched, he can speak English. I wondered how a baby dragon could possibly be born knowning the language of whatever humans are near him, but later in the book Navik explains that unhatched dragons can hear through the walls of their egg shell, and that is how they learn to speak. Temeraire is clearly the star of this book, though Navik makes him a bit too perfect. I did wonder why the dragons are willing to fight for the various human nations. Why don't the dragons just ditch their pilots and fly off for a life of freedom? Certainly it would be better than battling each other and suffering wounds and death. Maybe one of the later volumes will explain how dragons came to be domesticated. Given the advantages of flight, intelligence, immense size and potent breath weapons, it seems doubtful that a human could catch a dragon that didn't want to be caught.

Presumably, now that all the actors are introduced and put in their places, the subsequent novels will be full of non-stop derring-do and adventure. I have read and enjoyed two Naomi Novak's non-Temeraire novels, Uprooted and Spinning Silver, so I know she is a capable author. His Majesty's Dragon is her first published book, I expect that the later entries to the series are more polished.