It’s rare that I come across a fantasy novel that is either refreshingly new or a hell of a lot of fun, and His Majesty’s Dragon is both. The thing to note here is that this novel isn’t exactly fantasy – it’s more like alternative history. The setting is England during the Napoleonic Wars. Dragons not only exist and can talk, they are also bred and trained for battle in the Aerial Corps, with crews of a dozen men or more strapped to them in leather harnesses, like small flying warships. Novik’s world is like Patrick O’Brian’s novels, crossed with Jane Austen if she took a writing seminar from Anne McCaffrey.
The novel actually begins on a ship, as the English have taken over a French frigate that contains a dragon egg sent from China to Napoleon. The egg hatches and bonds with the ship’s captain, who has to not only learn to take care of his rapidly-growing dragon, but also has to adjust from the strict protocol-laden world of the Royal Navy to the more freewheeling yet understaffed Aerial Corps. Master and Commander dragon fight against Napoleon’s dragons in thrilling aerial battles, including thwarting an invasion plot.
The whole thing might sound a little goofy, but Novik completely nails everything, with a matter-of-fact tone that gets the speech and details of the period just right. The characters are solid, likeable, and above all, believable. Each dragon has their own personality and relationship with their crew. The end result is a completely enchanting read, so much so that in parts I wanted to stand up and cheer on the characters. The novel is the first in a series, with books two and three already out and a fourth on the way. Do not miss this series.
(If you need any more reason to catch on to this series, director Peter Jackson has dipped into his own pocket and bought the movie rights. If you thought the Battle of Helm’s Deep was thrilling cinema, I can’t freaking wait to see Jackson tackle squadrons of flying dragons fighting over Dover.)