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.

Summer Reading, Feeds, and Books

Lucky for me this week, I didn’t have any review books come in the mail. 

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

So, I’ll share with you a few of the books I snagged from the library this week instead:

1.  A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson, which I just started this past week and it’s good so far.

1941. Klaus Felsen, forced out of his Berlin factory into the SS, arrives in a luminous Lisbon, where Nazis and Allies, refugees and entrepreneurs, dance to the strains of opportunism and despair. Felsen’s assignment takes him to the bleak mountains of the north where a devious and brutal battle is being fought for an element vital to Hitler’s bliztkrieg. There he meets the man who plants the first seed of greed and revenge that will grow into a thick vine in the landscape of post-war Portugal. Late 1990s. Investigating the murder of a young girl with a disturbing sexual past, Inspector Ze Coelho overturns the dark soil of history and unearths old bones from Portugal’s fascist past. This small death in Lisbon is horrific compensation for an even older crime, and Coelho’s stubborn pursuit of its truth reveals a tragedy that unites past and present. Robert Wilson’s combination of intelligence, suspense, vivid characters, and mesmerizing storytelling richly deserves the international acclaim his novel has received.

2.  What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved by John Mullen, which I saw reviewed at Anna’s blog, Diary of an Eccentric and wanted to check out.

In twenty short chapters, each of which explores a question prompted by Austens novels, Mullan illuminates the themes that matter most in her beloved fiction. Readers will discover when Austen’s characters had their meals and what shops they went to; how vicars got good livings; and how wealth was inherited. What Matters in Jane Austen? illuminates the rituals and conventions of her fictional world in order to reveal her technical virtuosity and daring as a novelist. It uses telling passages from Austen’s letters and details from her own life to explain episodes in her novels: readers will find out, for example, what novels she read, how much money she had to live on, and what she saw at the theater.

3. His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik, which is our book club’s July pick.

When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Capt. Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future–and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

***My current read is Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent by Beth Kephart***

As many of you already know, Google Reader ends today. I’ve started using Netvibes, but I exported by existing feeds from Google Reader that overwhelmed me to the point that I quit using it altogether.  But this past week I ended up going through it all and paring it down to the 55 Book Blogs I want to read, the 14 authors’ blogs I want to read, 12 writing advice blogs, and a few other miscellaneous blogs for photography, local events, and more.  I’ve since moved it to Feedly because I liked how I could organize the blogs into different categories all at once, etc.  It made it much easier.

My reading has slowed some with the other activities going on this summer and of course, the work schedule that seems to have heated up.  I seem to be barely keeping my head from exploding at work these days.

But I’m hoping for a nice long holiday weekend for the 4th where I can get some reading done, and just chill out a bit — maybe even get into D.C. for some photography or just some good time at home and fireworks.

How’s your summer reading and activities going?