His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

temeraireRemember when I said that a narrator with a British accent can completely change an audiobook for me? By way of example, I offer exhibit A: His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik. It’s likely that I would have enjoyed the book in print, but I absolutely loved it on audio. I picked up the book (okay, downloaded the audiobook) after discovering that the new-to-me author of Uprooted had just finished up a NINE book series this year. I didn’t include this book in my list of Magical Regency reads only because there is no actual magic (unless you count talking dragons, of course). It has many of the same qualities I loved in the books on that list, however: a blend of fantasy, history, and proper manners.

His Majesty’s Dragon follows William Laurence, a decorated British naval officer during the Napoleonic Wars. The book opens with Laurence discovering that the French frigate taken by his fleet is carrying a dragon egg of unknown species. The Aerial Corps is the least desirable of the services, in large part due to the isolated lives the officers must, by necessity, lead. When the dragon’s egg begins to hatch long before the Reliant can make land, Cpt. Laurence finds himself volunteering to harness the dragon (lest the dragon be allowed to go feral and be lost to England forever) to spare any of his men the ignominious life of the Corps. So begins his unorthodox entry into the Aerial Corps and his education about all things dragon.

I once took a creative writing class with an aspiring fantasy writer. When a fellow classmate suggested he trim down a particularly long sword-fighting scene one week, he brusquely explained that his readers would expect detailed and accurate swordplay. “That’s what we do in fantasy,” he said. Be that as it may, I tend to skim over in-depth battles after over 20 years as a fantasy fan. I found that the battle scenes in His Majesty’s Dragon were short enough for even my attention span, even though they are full of what I can only assume is accurate tactics and terminology for early 19th-century naval warfare. Maybe I would have enjoyed the sword-fighting scenes more if my classmate had included dragons.

As for the narration itself, the narrator’s depiction of the formal and idealistic Cpt. Laurence made the story for me. Overly creative voices can pull me out of the action of an audiobook with their weirdness, but even the varied dragon voices worked here. I thought about reading the rest of the series in print, but I decided against it because my internal voice wouldn’t be nearly as dignified. Even though I have to wait a bit longer to get library copies of the audiobooks, the wait has been worth it. I’m on book #6 already, and listening to the adventures of Cpt. Laurence and Temeraire have become a favorite way to fill my hours in the car and kitchen each week.

I would recommend this to: fans of The Hero and the Crown and anyone who thinks the practicalities of training, feeding, and deploying an army of dragons would be interesting to consider.

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