His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire, #1) by Naomi Novik

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: January 15 to 23, 2017
Recommended by: book club’s pick
Recommended to:

Simon Vance to the rescue once again as he saves another book for me that I would have set aside for another time or probably indefinitely. Not the book’s fault though since it’s perfectly fine and well written for a historical fiction. It was more a case of bad timing when I picked it up, too much going on and not enough time or energy to spare and all that, but I made it through, with a lot of help from the audiobook which was superbly read by Mr. Vance, and I really enjoyed it.

The story reimagines the Napoleonic War years from the perspective of Will Laurence, an English captain, formerly of the navy, currently of the air force, and the dragon Temeraire which he took from a captured French ship. The pair bonded over a short period of time and grew to become a funny, sweet, interesting partnership by the end of the book. Some of my favorite moments consist of Laurence and Temeraire talking about books, battle tactics and strategies. There’s no magic or magic systems, no mysterious relics or quests, no coming of age farm boy set out to save the world since this isn’t high fantasy; dragons are the only fantastical elements here.

And the dragons in this world are intelligent and can communicate with their handlers and crew, and their interactions are really fun to read, or more accurately, really fun to hear Simon Vance read because he’s got a lovely voice and he has different voices for all of the characters, but the dragons’ voices are by far the best. The historical aspects of the story are well done and really immerse you in the time period, save for the part where there were dragons involved and both England and France used them like fighter jets, intelligent fighter jets with personalities and quirks. But this too, inserting dragons into this part of history, was also well done and really added to the overall historical feel of the story.

The reason I switched to audio was because of the slow beginning. Not much happened following the capture of the French ship as Laurence and his crew waited for Temeraire to hatch, and not much happened afterward when they left the navy to join the air force. While Temeraire was interesting, Laurence was not, unfortunately. Although a captain and in his thirties, he still had a lot of growing up to do and a lot of personal obstacles to overcome, and he didn’t become interesting until he fully gave in to the life and culture of the air force and dedicated himself to Temeraire (and dragons in general). By this point, more than half the book was over, and without Mr. Vance’s reading, I most definitely wouldn’t have made it this far or past all of Laurence’s shortcomings to really get into the story.

I’ve only read one other book by Naomi Novik and that’s Uprooted which was mostly okay, so I went into this book expecting it to also be mostly okay, but found myself enjoying it a lot, especially once more characters and dragons were introduced. They’re all a lot of fun except for Rankin whom I’d like to stab–repeatedly, but that’s another matter, unfinished business, saved for another time. Since there are 8 more books of dragon adventures, I look forward to continuing this journey with them.

“How did you come to see it?” [Laurence] said with interest, turning it over in his hands and brushing away more of the dirt.

“A little of it was out of the group and it was shining,” Temeraire said. “Is that gold? I like the look of it.”

“No, it is just pyrite, but it is very pretty, is it not? I suppose you are one of those hoarding creatures,” Laurence said, looking affectionately up at Temeraire; many dragons had an inborn fascination with jewels or precious metals. “I am afraid I am not rich enough a partner for you; I will not be able to give you a heap of gold to sleep on.”

“I should rather have you than a heap of gold, even if it were very comfortable to sleep on,” Temeraire said. “I do not mind the deck.”

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Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: June 24 to 27, 2015
Read Count: 1
Recommended by: friends on Goodreads
Recommended for: people who like dark fairy tales

Minor disclaimer:

I liked this book well enough and much more than I thought I would because, since it’s marketed as YA, I went in with some reservations. To my surprise though it’s not YA. Sure, the main character is a young woman and there’s some romance, but it’s not YA in the usual sense. So that was a relief. I just wanted to put that out there in case it helps anyone decide whether or not this book is for them.

 

First off, great story, solid writing, and an interesting take on combining fairy tale elements to tell a familiar yet original story. The style reminds me a lot of the Brothers Grimm but Naomi Novik adds enough of her own flavor to keep it interesting, and there’s a distinct medieval Eastern European feel to the setting and mythology which I really like. I don’t usually read or even like fairy tales, unless they’re dark and violent, but I enjoyed a good amount of this book because of its fairy tale elements.

Those the walkers carried into the Wood were less lucky. We didn’t know what happened to them, but they came back out sometimes, corrupted in the worst way: smiling and cheerful, unharmed. They seemed almost themselves to anyone who didn’t know them well, and you might spend half a day talking with one of them and never realize anything was wrong, until you found yourself taking up a knife and cutting off your own hand, putting out your own eyes, your own tongue, while they kept talking all the while, smiling, horrible. And then they would take the knife and go inside your house, to your children, while you lay outside blind and choking and helpless even to scream. If someone we loved was taken by the walkers, the only thing we knew to hope for them was death, and it could only be a hope.

What the book boils down to is a whimsical and funny, but at times dark, tale about a young peasant girl, Agnieszka, with latent magical powers who grows into them as she battles the evil plaguing her land. Every ten years, villages in the valley supply the Dragon, a powerful wizard who lives in an ivory tower, with a girl. His job is to educate and train her in the ways of magic so that she could help him hold back the Wood, the evil presence taking over the valley. And this year Agnieszka just happens to be the “lucky” girl.

As she adjusts to her new life in the tower, Agnieszka struggles with simple tasks and household chores which is quite amusing. It’s like a combination of the Disney-fied Beauty & the Beast and Cinderella with some Snow White mixed in. I enjoyed this bit of the story the most. Gradually though, the story progresses into darker realms as the Wood advances on the valley and more is revealed about what the Wood actually is. That’s when the story incorporates darker fairy tale elements from again Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel. And many more are woven into the plot. Novik uses quite a number of fairy tales, many of which seem vaguely familiar to me but I haven’t been able to identify them yet–and I’m still working it.

Overall, I like the way Novik writes. She has a nice way with words and her prose is oftentimes lovely but not saccharine like other fairy tale retellings I’ve read. And the way in which she uses fairy tale elements in the story is really clever. She makes them an instrumental part of the story. In many ways it’s subtle and organic and doesn’t encroach on the story at all, and in other ways it’s familiar and comforting to be reminded of all these stories I used to read as a child. Even the darkness in these stories bring back fond memories–of summer afternoons spent reading in the cramped library cubbies.

If you’re a fan of the Grimms’ classics, you’ll recognize many references and mentions and will enjoy how they’re made part of the magic and mythology. And if you’re familiar with Baba Jaga, you’re in for a treat.

That said, there are a few issues I have with this book, but it could be just me though. Other readers might be able to overlook these things just fine.

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* * * *  some spoilers & notes for myself * * * *

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