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His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik, narrated by Simon Vance

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 9 CDs
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Our August book club selection, His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire book 1) by Naomi Novik, narrated by Simon Vance, meshes the Napoleonic wars with dragons.  The novel opens with the capture of a French frigate run by a crew unwilling to give up its prize, a near hatching dragon egg, to the British HMS Reliant and Capt. Will Laurence.  While the prize is a great find, the hatchling will be very dangerous should it emerge while they are at sea where there are no mates, trainers, or food available. The situation forces the captain to have the men without families draw straws to determine who would become responsible for the dragon and its egg while aboard.

Handlers of dragons are considered second-class citizens, causing severe disappointment among families and generating a great separateness between handlers and their families.  Generally, children as young as seven are taken away from home for training.  While the young John Carver, who is afraid of heights, is selected to be the dragon’s handler, the dragon has other ideas.  When the dragon speaks, the men are astonished as they expected there to be a trick to getting them to speak.  Once named, Temeraire becomes the focus of the Reliant and its crew, and its relationship to Laurence takes an unexpected turn.

Vance’s voices are easily discernible as different characters and he excels at expressing the character’s fears and awe as he speaks their dialogue, but Novik tends to rely a great deal on adverbs to demonstrate fear or anxiousness and in some cases at the beginning the narration seems to contradict itself — either the dragon egg is an unusual find or a well-known item captured in the surgeon’s books about different dragons or there is a three hour trip to London from Madeira or a three hour trip from London to Scotland, but it is unlikely that both would take that long by transport or dragon.  There is a great deal of explanation through the characters about what they know and don’t know about the dragons, which can get tiresome as the descriptions become longer than necessary.

However, the growing relationship between Temeraire and Laurence is endearing.  And the conflicts between handlers about the care for the dragons and Laurence’s expectations about the training build up the tension as Napoleon continues to mount his forces.  While the first half of the book seems to be setting up the world for the dragons and can drag on a bit, the second half picks up speed with the battles and fighting.  The audio, as narrated by Vance, enables readers to become more closely engaged in the relationship between Temeraire and his handler, as they learn how to fly formations in training for battle and as they get to know one another.  There are a number of endearing scenes in which the handler and the dragon curl up together, with the handler reading to the dragon about mathematics, naval history, and more.

His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire book 1) by Naomi Novik satisfactorily meshes history with dragons, but the strength of the novel is in the relationships built between the dragons and their handlers.  These relationships are caring and strengthen with the passage of time, so much so that handlers often plan their futures around them.

 

This is my 53rd book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

 

About the Author:

An avid reader of fantasy literature since age six, when she first made her way through The Lord of the Rings, Naomi Novik is also a history buff with a particular interest in the Napoleonic era and a fondness for the work of Patrick O’Brian and Jane Austen. She studied English literature at Brown University, and did graduate work in computer science at Columbia University before leaving to participate in the design and development of the computer game Neverwinter Nights: Shadow of Undrentide. Over the course of a brief winter sojourn spent working on the game in Edmonton, Canada (accompanied by a truly alarming coat that now lives brooding in the depths of her closet), she realized she preferred writing to programming, and on returning to New York, decided to try her hand at novels.  Naomi lives in New York City with her husband and six computers.

What the book club thought:

It seemed as though most of the members enjoyed the book, and one member said that the historical facts about the Napoleonic wars were accurate for the most part.  Some expressed an inability or slight difficulty in determining the size of the dragons or transports used to move the dragons.  One member, who led the group, pointed out that the illustrator in the back of the book got some of the details wrong in the section that explains the differences between the dragons and their features.  One member said that she was not really excited to read the book because she doesn’t usually read fantasy books, but the author made it seem plausible that dragons would fit into our world.  She also indicated that she wanted one of her own dragons to curl up with and read to, and she would like to read the other eight books in the series.  Another member said that if Napoleon really did have dragons the world might have been more in trouble than it was at the time.  One male member had not finished the book, but said that he would continue reading.  Overall, is seems like the club enjoyed this foray into fantasy novels.

  • I know I liked this one way more than you did, but I’m glad you like it more toward the end. You’ve made me curious about Vance, and you know how I’m not a big fan of audiobooks.

    • I think the book got better as it went along; I just didn’t like some of the inconsistencies in the beginning and the boring tell not show. The action scenes and the training were interesting as well as the internal politics of the Aerial Corps. Vance knocked this one out of the park for me.

  • Ti

    SO not a book I’d pick up on my own but you intrigued me with your review. Plus, I have yet to hear the famous Simon Vance!

    • This was my first experience with Vance, and he totally made the book for me. I don’t often listen to audio, but with the meeting coming up fast and the only available copy at the library an audio, I had little choice.

      I really don’t read these kinds of books normally, but at least it was entertaining.