Thursday, 12 March 2015

Interested in dragons? In retellings of historical events with dragons? In societies built around the rearing and riding of many different kinds of dragons? In becoming a dragon yourself???

(Or, maybe just dragons in general)

Then don't pick up Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon, because you will discover that you can never put it down. It will be fused to your claws and merge into your scaly flesh, burrowing in deeper only to make room for the next book in the series.

Sadly, I can't speak for this book's effectiveness in the last question, as I retain my regrettable human form--outwardly anyway.

That old scoundrel Napoleon, he just never catches a break, does he? Dude is second only to Hitler in being everyone's favorite real life villain to demonize in fiction.

So the Napoleonic Wars are in full force, only this time -- with dragons! When Captain Laurence, of the warship Reliant, captures an enemy French ship, he discovers a prize dragon egg stowed away in the hold, which soon hatches a dragonling (dragonet? dragonbaby?) that imprints on him.

Which is totally not a part of Laurence's hypothetical five-year plan, if he had one (just kidding those probably didn't exist back then, and anyway he doesn't need one--I do), because dragon-imprinting is basically for life and consigns one instantly to a lifetime of service in the Aerial Corps. His entire life basically sidesteps from sea to sky, and it's a pretty huge adjustment period to make in the middle of a war that requires him and his newly named dragon buddy Temeraire to train for combat as fast as they can.

But Laurence is nothing if not a total-trooper good-soldier kinda dude whose rather stodgy personality is only salvaged by how he likes to pamper the hell out of the rapidly growing Temeraire. Because interspersed with grim reports of the Emperor's encroaching army and war front news are scenes where the dragons frolic around in a lake under their trainers' indulgent eyes and get rubbed down like spoiled kings who can't be bothered to pick up their own towels.

Pretty great.

Novik provides us with visual aids for the dragons, but in my head I can't help imagining Temeraire as a giant-sized Toothless with the achingly sweet personality of the Fox from the Little Prince (both of which are characters who mysteriously cause my eyes to experience a overcompensate for a cooling malfunction I CAN'T EXPLAIN IT). 

As for his human, Laurence (who is the main protagonist of the series, though Temeraire takes the spotlight every single time, and not just because he's a massive space-consuming dragon) is a good egg. He's a big softie who fails to hide his tender nature behind a painfully correct personality, which is pretty charming, though I could wish for him to be a little less mild-mannered. He's fiercely devoted to Temeraire (as is anyone who reads this ought to be), and is unafraid to show affection and to affirm the strength of their bond.

I don't know if it's because Temeraire's still a wee hatchling and thus is excessively devoted to Laurence, but I hope he remains the same charmingly wide-eyed yet oddly wise dragon. Do dragons experience puberty and the subsequent rebellious stage? Will he start piercing his frill and listening to angry cello music (good heavens!)? Will it still be adorable? (Very likely) Only time (and the next few Temeraire books) can tell.

I don't mean to knock his character (because if anything, I think we've pretty much established my love for Temeraire and how I basically want to replace all my friends with cuddly Temeraire clones), but he does smack of a reptilian kind of Mary Sue. He's got the unusual coloring, the odd name, the hyper intelligence, and a growing profusion of Special attributes that set him apart from all those other common garbage dragons who can't read good. 

Yes, most of these things are due to his species, so if he were to run into another one of his kind maybe it would seem less glaring, but clearly Temeraire is meant to be a special dragon snowflake. If he were a human, he would probably be less appealing, which is the first and last time you'll ever hear me say that.

However, I love the bundle of scales and book learning. My hands have been properly fused to this book, and you may not realize it but I am typing this with my nose. It's a pointy one, so precision is not a problem.


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