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Quint takes a ride with TEMERAIRE (aka His Majesty's Dragon), a novel by Naomi Novik!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. You don't often see me pop up with a book review on the site. Matter of fact, the only book reviews I have written were for the last two entries into my favorite modern series, Stephen King's DARK TOWER books. I love reading, but I'm not the same with books as I am with movies. If I'm not digging on a book right away, I tend to quit reading it. I'm not as patient, I guess.

So, I was sent an Advance Reading Copy for a fantasy novel, the first of three books in the story. I'm not really big into Fantasy fiction on the whole. I love the pulpy granddaddy's to the genre, like Burroughs' work and Bradbury's work and, of course, Tolkien's stuff, but I have found most modern Fantasy to be treading the same water. That just didn't interest me, even though I've heard some really good things about some current Fantasy, like Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. I don't know... I just look at those covers and there's something in my brain that just puts up a large, red flag of disinterest.

All that is to say that I don't keep up with much current Fantasy and those that I do find myself reading tend to be smart genre blenders. That's what I love about King's Dark Tower books. They're just as much horror as they are fantasy, just as much western as science fiction, just as much action as drama. It's a new taste.

The description of Naomi Novik's TEMERAIRE is what prompted me to give it a chance. The story is set during the Napoleonic wars and follows British Naval Captain Will Laurence as he captures an enemy vessel bound for France. Below decks his crew finds a large egg and the journey begins.

The book supposes that during this historical conflict the UK and France not only had ground troops and Naval warships, but also had an Air Force composed of dragons and their masters.

There are many different breeds of dragons, some that are used for their speed, agility, strength, endurance, etc. Very much like planes in modern warfare, except in this reality the planes have their own instincts, emotions and, occasionally, the ability to spit acid or breathe fire, although fire-breathing dragons are very rare in Novik's universe, which allows her to set this story apart in a significant way from most dragon tales.

There's also a degree of loyalty that really is compelling in the book. A dragon picks his rider and their lives are tied together until death. There's a bond between a dragon and his rider that is greater than anything but the most devoted and selfless friendship you can think of and that's where the strength of Novik's story really lies.

This is Novik's first widely published work and it does show a few signs of a first time writer. Every once in a while her writing gets a tad overcomplicated and there are one or two moments of abrupt story changes that totally feel out of pace with the momentum of the story... You know those, when you have to stop and then turn the page back and make sure you didn't accidently turn two pages instead of one.

However, Novik nails everything important. Our two main characters Capt. Will Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire (named after the famous ship that was captured from the French and used against them by His Majesty's Navy) and their relationship is the heart of the book and is what made it so addictive to me.

It was seriously one of those books that I found myself thinking about during my regular daily routine, one that I put off things in order to just lay back and read. Very addictive.

The dragons can speak right out of the shell and are written with a kind of childlike wonder about the world. Each dragon has its own personality, but so far into the series there isn't one that is portrayed as a monster or even an animal. Novik really writes this as a buddy story. Laurence and Temeraire have a relationship much akin to Frodo and Sam or Capt. Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin from MASTER AND COMMANDER (a series that probably has more of an influence than Tolkien), true friends with no pretense to their friendship.

It's this friendship and, to a lesser extent, the relationships we see between the other aviators and their dragons, that drive the book forward and kept me so involved. Novik got me to care about these two, which was the real challenge for me as an individual reader. After the first couple chapters I didn't find myself reading a Fantasy book. I was just reading a book, following real characters.

The story is broken up into 3 acts.

Act 1 is the discovery of the egg and initial bonding between Temeraire and Laurence. Laurence has to shift from his beloved Navy to being an Aviator, a career that isn't valued very highly by the Navy. The transition isn't a smooth one for the man, but his friendship with Temeraire grows rapidly and eases the giant shift in his life's pursuits.

Act 2 has Temeraire and Laurence training with other dragons and aviators at Loch Laggan. We get introduced to the bulk of the secondary characters, both human and dragon alike, here. Much of the drama of the story resides here as well, as Laurence's Naval training clashes with the Aviators' training.

Novik's character work isn't as in-depth as characters from someone like King, but I'd say they're just real and complex. There are only a few obvious choices made here. For the most part it's solid work, very human (even for the non-human characters).

Act 3 has Laurence and Temeraire's trial by fire as they're thrown headfirst into battle with Napoleon's aviation force in a move that could very well spell disaster for the British.

And because Novik writes this story in a very grounded and real way as an alternate reality to our own, you're not sure that Napoleon is doomed to fail. In a world where there are huge dragons carrying dozens of riflemen and crew attacking ships and other dragons, you can't be sure where else that reality will stray from our own.

Needless to say, Novik's aerial combat at the end is massive, bloody and heart-pounding. The action is enormous, but never overly complicated. It would be exhilarating to see it pulled off on the big screen.

Coming from an admitted Fantasy snob, I give this book a hearty recommendation. It's out in the US in paperback in late March under the title HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON, a title I'm not a huge fan of. It's apt, but it makes the book sound like one of those dime-a-dozen dragon fantasy books.

The book has just been released in the UK under the title I like the most, TEMERAIRE. Simple. Perfect. The UK edition also comes in hardback with a cover I like better, too. Here's the UK cover:

I wish Del Ray would put a little money into the series and release them in hardback here in the states. It'd give the series a little more weight, I think.

The second book, THRONE OF JADE, comes out only a month after the first and the final book, BLACK POWDER WAR, a month after that.

Anyway, I wouldn't be surprised if we see this series snapped up by the studios... If handled with a respectable budget and with any degree of seriousness, this would make a fucking great film series. I can't help but imagine the effects work of something like ROTK or even REIGN OF FIRE mixed with the setting and tone of something like MASTER AND COMMANDER. With these characters and those visuals it could be incredible.

Maybe some of our UK readers who might have picked up the book will throw in their opinions in the talkbacks below. Personally, I'm desperate to read the rest of the story and something tells me I might have a couple more reviews for you shortly, so stay tuned.


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