Generally, there are two major things that decide whether I’m going to adore a book, or not: characters, and great writing. Characters‐ that’s pretty easy to define. If the characters feel like real people that I could sit and have a chat with, whether we get along or not, if they’re three‐dimensional and honest, I’m happy. Great writing is a little harder. I’ve actually read a lot of books where the writing was AMAZING but there were, say, a lot of choppy sentences or grammatical… issues. And I’ve read a lot of books where the writing was supposed to be beautiful, and it was, but it was sterile. Basically, I guess I like writing that’s lovely‐ not purple‐y, not flowery, not over the top, but just… lovely. Sometimes that means writing that’s unflinching in its honesty or its harshness, sometimes it means writing that works hard to express tough ideas in the best possible way. And a lot of times, it just means that the writing was satisfying. That the words worked together and were constructed in such a way that simply reading them was a pleasure.
So, that was a really long intro paragraph so that I could say: Naomi Novik, in her His Majesty’s Dragon series, does all of this. Her characters are rich and real and wonderful and terrible and I know them like they’re people I’ve met. Her writing is very honest, so lovely, deals with issues in such a neat fashion. It’s pretty and it’s exciting, but, even better for me, it’s so tasty. I mean, when I’m reading this series, I just feel so good. Her words just fit together like puzzle pieces‐ tight and neat and clean, and they drop right into your brain and your heart and they stay there, and it feels right.
So. The series. It’s about Laurence, a man who was a naval captain but finds himself accidentally in charge of a dragon, named Temeraire. And it’s an alternate history series‐ it takes place during the Napoleonic Wars. And dragons and their captains are involved in helping with the war. Of course, Laurence and Temeraire end up doing that as well, but they also have a ton of other very exciting adventures in places like Australia and South America and Japan.
And it is really exciting. I mean, the plots are intricate and intense, and the politics and history are, as far as I can tell, very well researched. You’re never bored, because there’s just always so much going on. And the fantasy aspect of the dragons and their captains blends really seamlessly into the historical parts.
But like I said, I love the writing. And I love the characters. I loooove them. I love all the relationships between them, love how the secondary characters feel as real and important as the main characters. I love how they are all individuals. I love how the dragons are written‐ these are some of the very best dragons you can read, and I saw that with kind‐of‐authority‐ I am a dragon‐crazy person. I love how you can see how much Laurence cares for Temeraire. I love their friendship‐ it’s so wonderful and thoughtful.
And, yes, overall, these books are just really, really satisfying. I can count on probably one hand the number of authors whose books I would buy sight‐unseen, and Naomi Novik is one, because she just has a great grasp of the language and how to put it to wonderful use. I even seriously enjoyed a short story she wrote, and I am generally not a big short story fan. She could probably write grocery lists, and I’d pay to read them. And when you combine that structural talent with a vivid imagination and amazing characterization and all the other good things that go on in the His Majesty’s Dragon series, you get something that’s truly fantastic.
The series starts with‐ ready?‐ ‘His Majesty’s Dragon,’ and then there are, I believe, eight more books in the series. You should definitely read them in order.