Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Temeraire Series: Book One: His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

I devoured this book in a little less than two weeks. It's easy to read, as with most of the stuff I'm eating with my eyes right now. Everything that isn't academic, that is. Stress has seriously flattened my brain to base levels of intellectual consumption. I read this quickly enough, and the idea of writing something without having to reference constantly is far too tempting.

The blurb!

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors right to Britain's defense by taking to the skies...not aboard aircraft but atop the mighty backs of fighting dragons.
When HMS
Reliant captures a French frigate and siezes its precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Capt. Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain furture--and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarefied 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.

Eww, over use of cliches in metaphor. That last sentence is like reading a tabloid. ANYWAY, that's pretty much what's going on.

The first bit on the boat is really good technically. Obviously the author knows boats inside out. I probably could have done without most of the technical jargon, but maybe it's just me. Novik would obviously have had to know protocol really well in order to write Laurence's reaction to being attached to a dragon and having usual protocol disrupted. His relationships with his shipmates are also really well written, more so when the formalities of rank are disrupted and they're able to be more human with one another, which I think is a subtle way of not making us dislike Laurence on account of his rank. He follows rules of formality and rank rather than actually thinking he deserves to be treated any differently because of some inherent difference. At least that's how I read it. Quite often you see rank portrayed as hand-in-hand with snobbery. Laurence isn't a snob. It's difficult not to dislike him when he first meet's Temeraire though, he's a bit of a brat. It's understandable though, since joining the Aerial Corps means pretty much leaving society and living with your regiment and dragon the whole time.

 Things I really liked about this book:

Temeraire might be the sweetest thing ever. He's intelligent and inquisitive and an excellent way of writing about the conventions of the time while being able to question them from a more objective point of view. He's also a motherfucking dragon. There are some very sweet and funny moments between Laurence and Temeraire. It's an odd parental/best-friendy sort of relationship. I daren't rule34 them, because I know there's something somewhere and I'd like to maintain their innocence.

The seperation of the aviators from contemporary society means that Novik is able to use female characters and have them not need to be proper or meet any expectations except those placed upon other aviators who are male. Captain Harcourt is a young captain who was a little distant from Laurence and seemed a little timid and a little naive, but Captain Roland is a badass older captain whose daughter is part of Laurence's crew, and she is awesome. Strong female characters in a military setting is nice to see, especially in period novels

Things that made me less happy:

I couldn't help but compare to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel by Susanna Clarke, which is a book I love and still contend played no small part in me failing AS Level history. Not because I started writing about Regency Magicians (although I may as well have done), but because I'd get half way down Grey Street and think "Fuck revision, let's catch up with the awesome magic stuff!" JS&MN was also generally far more fantastical and detailed and the language was far more of the time (omg the werdz). Novik had the manners and the conversational hedges all down pat, but the tone and style were far more accessible to modern audiences. That's no bad thing, but I'm a language nerd and couldn't help making the comparison.

The story seemed a little flat. They seem to be at the covert for quite long periods of time and I don't feel like a lot is happening. The technicalities of Temeraire's training were really well constructed, and watching their relationship develop over time is really beautifully done and makes for a big case of the warm fuzzies but it's about little personal instances and about how Laurence integrates himself to the community, which is important and worthwhile, but I guess not actiony enough for my tastes. As a set up for a series it's definitely solid, though.

There's a section at the back with illustrations of the dragon types Temeraire and Laurence meet and work with, and then there are a few chapters at the back from a dragon expert's book. This is the kind of thing that made me love Clarke's book. Anything that makes a world more real always impresses me a great deal,  so I'm hoping there's more to come in the next two installments.

Cover reviews! There haven't been many of these the last few goes:

"Terrifically entertaining"-Stephen King

Yes! There was nothing wrong with it. Despite my complaining that they're at the covert foreverz omg, the pacing is actually really good. There's just enough going on to not make me want to scoop my eyes out like I did when reading Wicked by Gregory Maguire.

"Enthralling reading--like Jane Austen playing Dungeons & Dragons with Eragorn's Christopher Paolini." --Time

I disagree with the comparisons, they seem kind of arbitrary and "oh, these people are to do with dragons and women and historical literature, lets shove them together!", but it is enthralling and I did really love it.

There are no more reviews on the cover, lots more inside though. One of which suggests a film adaptation (ugh), but all of which say positive things.

I give it 4 Mell-Heads. The other was shot off by the French.