I discovered this book through a fellow librarian at work, who not only recommended the series, but specifically the audio version. When she said it was swashbuckling adventure during the Napoleonic wars, I wasn't too interested. That is, until she said, "with dragons." Then I was intrigued, and since I've come to trust her taste in books (she is, after all, a Miles Vorkosigan fan), I picked up the first book of the series and started listening.
The premise is that the air corps of the military forces in the world are made up of different breeds of dragons. Each breed has different strengths and advantages, and each dragon must be "harnessed" by a partner shortly after hatching, or it will not be socialized and trainable.
Laurence, a captain of a British sailing ship, captures a French ship, and on board the captured vessel, they discover a dragon egg. It is an amazing prize, but there's just one hitch: the dragon egg is perilously close to hatching, and they are days from shore. One of the ship's officers must attempt to harness the baby dragon, or they risk losing it to the wild, which would be a grievous loss, as every able-bodied dragon is sorely needed to help defend the country against Napoleon. They draw straws, and Laurence includes himself among the officers, because he is an honorable man. None of them wants to be part of the Aeriel Corps - those men who live separately, perforce, from society. Laurence and his officers are seamen, with lives on land, aspirations in the Navy. Laurence is privately embarrassed by his own relief when he is not chosen, although he can see what a poor choice the lad with the short straw is - he's terribly afraid of heights, but he tries, when the time comes, to harness the creature.
However, as Laurence is soon to learn, when dragons are concerned, it's best to expect the unexpected. Laurence's life is turned upside down when the little dragon approaches him, and the dismay he initially feels at the consequences - losing his place in society, his pretty fiancee, his naval career - quickly dissipates as he comes to realize that harnessing the young dragon, Temeraire, is the finest thing that could ever have possibly happened to him.
This first book in the series follows Laurence and Temeraire as they explore their new world together and try to find a place for themselves in the Aeriel Corps. Temeraire is an unusual dragon - his breed is unlike any other in the Corps, and Laurence, as a sea captain, is an unusual dragon rider. But together they make an excellent team, and the development of their relationship as the book progressed was my favorite aspect of the book.
I have seen this book compared with Jane Austen's novels, and it seems an odd comparison for a fantasy novel set during wartime. Yet it is an applicable comparison, especially in the dialogue of the book, as much is conveyed with few words, and what remains unsaid is nearly as important as what is spoken aloud. The audio version is a treat! Simon Vance is such an effective narrator that I found myself forgetting that it was a single person telling the story - it seemed like a host of characters, each with a distinct voice. I particularly enjoyed Temeraire's voice - Vance uses the perfect expression and intonation for his speech.
I was a tad reluctant to read the book initially, because of the love I bear Anne McCaffrey's Pern books, and the fact that most other dragon novels (particularly those about riders bonding with dragons) simply do not hold a candle to the amazing world she created in those novels. I need not have worried - Novik's world is so very different, as are the dragons and their relationships with humans, and it quickly became an entirely separate thing, set as it is in a world that is in every respect realistic to its time period (except, of course, for the dragons).
This was a truly delightful novel, with excellent characterization, tight writing, and effective world building. I am so pleased that there are many more books in the series that have already been published, and I intend to listen to the audio version of all of them. I highly recommend this one!
Books in the Temeraire series:
1. His Majesty's Dragon
2. Throne of Jade
3. Black Powder War
4. Empire of Ivory
5. Victory of Eagles
His Majesty's Dragon (#1 in the Temeraire series; UK title: Temeraire) by Naomi Novik; read by Simon Vance (Books on Tape, 2006)
Also reviewed at:
All Booked Up: "...there's a bit of everything, from battle, to society, to politics and beyond. The pacing seems to be well done, and this is a book where all the positive hype on LibraryThing and elsewhere seems to be correct."
Mikko Reads: "This is perfect entertainment: light and quick to read, but also funny, smart and touching. The main characters in the book are particularly charming."
My Life as Seen Through Books: "I found this book to be a creative and fun read, and the relationship between the dragons and their "handlers" is nothing short of sweet. I mean, who wouldn't want their very own dragon, especially one that's strong, powerful, intelligent, and wholly devoted to you?"
Reading Adventures: "Overall, a very enjoyable read."