One of my former coworkers was forever recommending Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series to customers. When I found out that Simon Vance, whose narrating prowess I had heard about but never experienced, read the entire series, I knew what my next audiobook would be.
About the Book:
Captain Will Laurence of the British Navy has no reason to suspect the French ship he has captured is carrying precious cargo. War with France is in full swing, and Laurence is merely doing his duty. But when a rare dragon’s egg is discovered on board — and, worse, about to hatch — Laurence knows he must act fast. The hatching ceremony, though known only vaguely to Laurence and his crew, is crucial, for it is during these first moments of a dragon’s life outside its shell that it chooses its handler for life. If no such handler is provided, the dragon may go feral, an unacceptable loss during wartime especially. With no experienced airmen on board to guide the process, Laurence and his men must make do and hope for the best.
It is no surprise how the hatching goes. The little dragon chooses Laurence, who christens the dragon Temeraire after a British ship. Laurence steps down from his post immediately, which gives him plenty of time to ponder his unwanted career change as the ship nears port. The life of a Navy captain is solitary and unpredictable enough, and life in the Aerial Corps is even more so. But Laurence is a man of duty, and Temeraire is a charming creature, and so the two embark on a new life through wholly unknown territory to do their part for Britain’s cause.
I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but His Majesty’s Dragon is exactly the sort of fantasy I enjoy. It reads like historical fiction, for the most part, except for some changes — in this case, the Napoleonic wars include aerial warfare fought with dragons. Around this alternate version of history, Naomi Novik has crafted a splendid world, skilfully combining the familiar with the unfamiliar. She has created a watertight world inhabited by her Aerial Corps and wedged it into British society seamlessly. I loved learning the dragon lore, habits, history, and fighting techniques woven throughout the tale.
The relationship between Temeraire and Laurence makes the book. Temeraire is clever, curious, and fiercely loyal, and Laurence, for his part, is strong but kind, good-humored, and just as loyal as his dragon. The two are an affectionate team, which adds an emotional depth to the novel I hadn’t expected. The other dragons encountered in the story have personalities as distinct as their handlers and are just as memorable.
His Majesty’s Dragon lacks the spunky female lead I often love to see, yet — and I rarely say this — I didn’t find myself missing her. Indeed, there are hardly any women in the first installment of the series, since warfare during that time was primarily the domain of men, but I hardly noticed. Novik does work a few women in, with a plausible explanation, though none have stepped forward as central characters thus far.
I don’t think I even have to say that Simon Vance is incredible, but I will. It’s my first experience with one of his audiobooks, and I know I will pick up many more. His pacing, his inflection, his character voices are perfect. He reads with flair, yet does not overdo the drama to the point of being annoying. He reads the rest of the series (five more books, so far), for which I am very excited!
If you enjoy fantasy or alternate history, even if what you usually read is along the lines of Harry Potter and Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series, Temeraire might be a series for you. And if you like audiobooks, well, definitely give Simon Vance’s readings a try!