Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thursday: My Favorite Reads - HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON by Naomi Novik

Until I read this first book in the TEMERAIRE series by Naomi Novik, I'd never realized how much I could love a book in which a dragon is the main and sympathetic character.

I've since read all the books in the series save one - the very latest - and loved them all. This is one of those extra-special series that never grows old - each book brings on a new and intriguing twist, a new barrier to be surmounted, a new and thrilling adventure for Temeraire and his captain and close friend, Will Laurence. The brilliance of author Naomi Novik is in her inventive concept, placing her extraordinary characters within a real time frame: the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800's in which England and France went at it hammer and tongs for years.

So, this is the 'reality' of European history with a definite, imaginative twist: dragon air corps employed by both countries. (Most other countries of the world have their own groups of dragons in varying stages of combat readiness or in feral communities in the wild.) These 'air corps' go into thrilling battles in scenes so visually breathtaking you can see them in your mind's eye as if they were unfolding before you - Naomi Novik is that descriptively brilliant a writer. Her writing style is a wonderful combo of 19th century sounding prose mixed with 'modern' sensibilities, pacing and tone. I don't quite know how she does it, but she has a marvelous ability to place you immediately in the picture and you, for whatever reason, go right along with her inventive tale as if it were something that had, indeed, happened and you're just now hearing about it. I love when that happens.

I've seen these books described as Patrick O'Brian with dragons but never having read O'Brian's work, I don't know the truth of that. (I did see the amazing film MASTER AND COMMANDER based on O'Brian's books and I think I understand how the comparison would be made.) I tend to think I would probably agree. Movie wizard and LORD OF THE RINGS filmmaker Peter Jackson has optioned the rights to Novik's books, so we have that to look forward to at some point within the next few years.

An excerpt from the first part of the first book: Laurence and the dragon, Temeraire, are still aboard the ship which Laurence had been captain of until his sudden change in status from sea captain to air corps pilot - a life time position.

Afterwards, having said his good nights in the cabin, Laurence walked a little unsteadily back towards the stern, where Temeraire lay in solitary splendor, the crew having abandoned that part of the deck to him as he had grown. He opened a gleaming eye as Laurence approached and lifted a wing in invitation. Laurence was a little surprised at the gesture, but he took up his pallet and ducked under into the the comfortable warmth. He unrolled the pallet and sat down upon it, leaning back against the dragon's side, and Temeraire lowered the wing again, making a warm sheltered space around him.

"Do you think I will be able to breathe fire or spit poison?" Temeraire asked. "I am not sure how I could tell; I tried, but I only blew air."

"Did you hear us talking?" Laurence asked, startled; the stern windows had been open, and the conversation might well have been audible on deck, but somehow it had not occurred to him that Temeraire might listen.

"Yes," Temeraire said. "The part about the battle was very exciting. Have you been in many of them?"

"Oh, I suppose so," Laurence said. "Not more than many other fellows." This was not entirely true; he had an unusually large number of actions to his credit, which had seen him to the post-list at a relatively young age, and he was accounted a fighting-captain. "But that is how we found you, when you were in the egg; you were aboard a prize when we took her," he added, indicating the Amitie, her stern lanterns presently visible two points to larboard.

Temeraire looked out at her with interest. "You won me in a battle? I did not know that." He sounded pleased by the information. "Will we be in another one soon? I would like to see. I am sure I could help, even if I cannot breathe fire yet."

Laurence smiled at his enthusiasm; dragons notoriously had a great deal of fighting spirit, part of what made them so valuable in war...

From the back cover of the first book: "Just when you think you've seen every variation possible on the dragon story, along comes Naomi Novik...Her wonderful Temeraire is a dragon for the ages." Terry Brooks

"A splendid novel. Not only is it a new way to utilize dragons, it's a very clever one and fits neatly into the historical niche this author has used. The plot was excellent, extraordinary in that the reader has no idea where it's leading - which is always fun..." Anne McCaffrey

I can't stress enough to you just how absolutely wonderful these books are. As Temeraire grows to 'adult-hood' and the friendship and devotion between dragon and man deepens, they and the other dragon troops battle not only the French dragons of Napoleon's superior forces, but also ravaging illness, jealousy, betrayal, the ignorance of British society and the chaos of nature. All depicted in a breathlessly realistic fashion as part of the widening scope of the Temeraire legacy of grand adventure. Naomi Novik sees 'large' and luckily for us, she includes us in her vision of a world that is both familiar and strange.

Even if you've never read a dragon book, even if you've never thought to read a 'dragon' book, even if you can't imagine EVER reading a dragon book - do yourselves a favor and read this - the rest of the books will soon follow in order. You will not be able to help yourselves, I promise you.

Please go here to read more about the Temeraire books and author Naomi Novik.

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