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Quint takes a ride with TEMERAIRE (aka His Majesty's Dragon), a novel by Naomi Novik!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. You don't often see me pop up with a book review on the site. Matter of fact, the only book reviews I have written were for the last two entries into my favorite modern series, Stephen King's DARK TOWER books. I love reading, but I'm not the same with books as I am with movies. If I'm not digging on a book right away, I tend to quit reading it. I'm not as patient, I guess.

So, I was sent an Advance Reading Copy for a fantasy novel, the first of three books in the story. I'm not really big into Fantasy fiction on the whole. I love the pulpy granddaddy's to the genre, like Burroughs' work and Bradbury's work and, of course, Tolkien's stuff, but I have found most modern Fantasy to be treading the same water. That just didn't interest me, even though I've heard some really good things about some current Fantasy, like Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. I don't know... I just look at those covers and there's something in my brain that just puts up a large, red flag of disinterest.

All that is to say that I don't keep up with much current Fantasy and those that I do find myself reading tend to be smart genre blenders. That's what I love about King's Dark Tower books. They're just as much horror as they are fantasy, just as much western as science fiction, just as much action as drama. It's a new taste.

The description of Naomi Novik's TEMERAIRE is what prompted me to give it a chance. The story is set during the Napoleonic wars and follows British Naval Captain Will Laurence as he captures an enemy vessel bound for France. Below decks his crew finds a large egg and the journey begins.

The book supposes that during this historical conflict the UK and France not only had ground troops and Naval warships, but also had an Air Force composed of dragons and their masters.

There are many different breeds of dragons, some that are used for their speed, agility, strength, endurance, etc. Very much like planes in modern warfare, except in this reality the planes have their own instincts, emotions and, occasionally, the ability to spit acid or breathe fire, although fire-breathing dragons are very rare in Novik's universe, which allows her to set this story apart in a significant way from most dragon tales.

There's also a degree of loyalty that really is compelling in the book. A dragon picks his rider and their lives are tied together until death. There's a bond between a dragon and his rider that is greater than anything but the most devoted and selfless friendship you can think of and that's where the strength of Novik's story really lies.

This is Novik's first widely published work and it does show a few signs of a first time writer. Every once in a while her writing gets a tad overcomplicated and there are one or two moments of abrupt story changes that totally feel out of pace with the momentum of the story... You know those, when you have to stop and then turn the page back and make sure you didn't accidently turn two pages instead of one.

However, Novik nails everything important. Our two main characters Capt. Will Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire (named after the famous ship that was captured from the French and used against them by His Majesty's Navy) and their relationship is the heart of the book and is what made it so addictive to me.

It was seriously one of those books that I found myself thinking about during my regular daily routine, one that I put off things in order to just lay back and read. Very addictive.

The dragons can speak right out of the shell and are written with a kind of childlike wonder about the world. Each dragon has its own personality, but so far into the series there isn't one that is portrayed as a monster or even an animal. Novik really writes this as a buddy story. Laurence and Temeraire have a relationship much akin to Frodo and Sam or Capt. Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin from MASTER AND COMMANDER (a series that probably has more of an influence than Tolkien), true friends with no pretense to their friendship.

It's this friendship and, to a lesser extent, the relationships we see between the other aviators and their dragons, that drive the book forward and kept me so involved. Novik got me to care about these two, which was the real challenge for me as an individual reader. After the first couple chapters I didn't find myself reading a Fantasy book. I was just reading a book, following real characters.

The story is broken up into 3 acts.

Act 1 is the discovery of the egg and initial bonding between Temeraire and Laurence. Laurence has to shift from his beloved Navy to being an Aviator, a career that isn't valued very highly by the Navy. The transition isn't a smooth one for the man, but his friendship with Temeraire grows rapidly and eases the giant shift in his life's pursuits.

Act 2 has Temeraire and Laurence training with other dragons and aviators at Loch Laggan. We get introduced to the bulk of the secondary characters, both human and dragon alike, here. Much of the drama of the story resides here as well, as Laurence's Naval training clashes with the Aviators' training.

Novik's character work isn't as in-depth as characters from someone like King, but I'd say they're just real and complex. There are only a few obvious choices made here. For the most part it's solid work, very human (even for the non-human characters).

Act 3 has Laurence and Temeraire's trial by fire as they're thrown headfirst into battle with Napoleon's aviation force in a move that could very well spell disaster for the British.

And because Novik writes this story in a very grounded and real way as an alternate reality to our own, you're not sure that Napoleon is doomed to fail. In a world where there are huge dragons carrying dozens of riflemen and crew attacking ships and other dragons, you can't be sure where else that reality will stray from our own.

Needless to say, Novik's aerial combat at the end is massive, bloody and heart-pounding. The action is enormous, but never overly complicated. It would be exhilarating to see it pulled off on the big screen.

Coming from an admitted Fantasy snob, I give this book a hearty recommendation. It's out in the US in paperback in late March under the title HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON, a title I'm not a huge fan of. It's apt, but it makes the book sound like one of those dime-a-dozen dragon fantasy books.

The book has just been released in the UK under the title I like the most, TEMERAIRE. Simple. Perfect. The UK edition also comes in hardback with a cover I like better, too. Here's the UK cover:





I wish Del Ray would put a little money into the series and release them in hardback here in the states. It'd give the series a little more weight, I think.

The second book, THRONE OF JADE, comes out only a month after the first and the final book, BLACK POWDER WAR, a month after that.

Anyway, I wouldn't be surprised if we see this series snapped up by the studios... If handled with a respectable budget and with any degree of seriousness, this would make a fucking great film series. I can't help but imagine the effects work of something like ROTK or even REIGN OF FIRE mixed with the setting and tone of something like MASTER AND COMMANDER. With these characters and those visuals it could be incredible.

Maybe some of our UK readers who might have picked up the book will throw in their opinions in the talkbacks below. Personally, I'm desperate to read the rest of the story and something tells me I might have a couple more reviews for you shortly, so stay tuned.





-Quint





Readers Talkback
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  • Because much of the characteristics sound scarily similar - just transposed to reimagine an historical period with fantasy added - which isn't that unique either (Strange and Norrell last year being the most recent big one probably).

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 4 a.m. CST

    second...

    by unclefishbits

    okay... I get why is this is sort of addictive for us idiots.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 4:18 a.m. CST

    NERD ALERT

    by Aust1n

    Quint, you should read "The Time Machine Did It" by John Swartzwelder

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 5:29 a.m. CST

    I think there should be a book section here at AICN

    by Lezbo Milk

    It would be a fantastic idea. Book reviews from a nerd/geek/psycho nutjob angle. I love it. Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror (sorry all you Jackie Collins fans) would fit the bill nicely. I mean really, does anyone at Barnes and Noble have half the clue that we partakers of AICN have on the genre?

  • there is a massive dragon glut in the fantasy genre in general too, and when i saw the headline for this i went "oh no, not ANOTHER dragon-based fantasy series." and even though Quint was giving it his best, the description leaves me less than flat. been there, done that, and then some. want some truly original fantasy to read by a world-class author? try the latest from Stephen R Donaldson, Runes of the Earth. its the first book of the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 6:16 a.m. CST

    I rather they pick up AGE OF UNREASON

    by turk128

    If you really want some really good high concept magical steampunking, go for Gregory Keyes' Age of Unreason series. What if Sir Isaac Newton discovered magic? And what if Ben Franklin got his hands on this new 'science'? The series is pretty darn epic (involves all the big players in the 18th century), involves supernatural beings (don't wanna spoil it), and has some pretty darn good twists. And who wouldn't want to see Franklin running around kicking ass?

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 6:26 a.m. CST

    I dunno

    by KnightEternal

    but this sounds alot like Eragon, with the dragons choosing their masters from the eggs etc just set in this world instead of a fantasy one

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 6:37 a.m. CST

    Quint, read the first two Wheel of Time books

    by Fawst

    Cuz they rule. A little warning, the beginning of the first book seems a little too "familiar," but that was done on purpose to ease people into it. Give it a shot, the first book is great, but the second is even better.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 6:48 a.m. CST

    Fawst

    by KnightEternal

    it just starts getting a little long winded after book 8

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 7:29 a.m. CST

    Although not extraordinarily well-written...

    by DocPazuzu

    ...a series I find hugely enjoyable is William R Forstchen's Lost Regiment. It takes place on a planet where sizeable numbers of humans have been transported throughout the centuries through bizarre and periodic wormholes. As a result, you have human societies consisting of, among others, Romans, medieval Russians, 17th Century Chinese etc. The dominant species on the planet, however, is a race of 8-foot tall, flesh-eating, sword-wielding aliens on horseback who migrate across the globe in massive hordes. At each human settlement they stop, a tribute of human flesh is demanded to prevent the aliens from wiping them out forever. Humans are essentially cattle. This all changes when the latest group of humans arrive: a shipload of Union troops from the American Civil War. After befriending a Russian community, the Americans set about manufacturing modern weapons of war and training a human army to defy the alien horde set to arrive a mere two years in the future. It's colossal numbers of alien cannibal giants with swords and bows against a few humans with 19th Century weapons and tactics. Like I said, not the most well-written books in the genre, but very much a pleasure to read -- not least of all the battle scenes which are fantastic. A movie based on this would have the potential to own some serious ass. You KNOW you want to see a Yankee bayonet charge against homicidal, blood-thirsty, alien monsters on clydesdales. Last I heard, Cruise/Wagner had the rights but had decided to pass on it.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 7:38 a.m. CST

    so is this something we're doing now?

    by newc0253

    reviewing books? personally, i think reviewing scifi and fantasy books fits in pretty well with the general geekness of AICN. but here's a suggestion: get someone who knows something about fantasy books, not a guy whose only experience with modern fantasy writing is stephen fucking king. quint might be a competent film reviewer, but his book reviewing sucks.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 7:42 a.m. CST

    "I'm not really big into Fantasy fiction on the whole."

    by newc0253

    would AICN ever give so much space to a film review of, say, an unknown SF movie by someone who admitted upfront that they "weren't really into SF"? just curious.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 8:12 a.m. CST

    So how about reading the thing before bitching about it?

    by MiloM

    Ever occur to you that maybe the book actually is as good as he says? I mean, imagine if, when the first Harry Potter book came out, Quint had written, "Listen, I don't generally review books, especially not ones about boy wizards learning magic and riding broomsticks, but this one's something special, I couldn't put it down, and you might like it, too." Would you have bitched about how he's wasting valuable space writing about this unknown Rowling person's unknown fantasy book? Probably. But would you have been right to? Probably not. If Quint says this unknown author's unknown book blew him away, I'm glad to know it. Maybe it'll blow me away too.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 9:06 a.m. CST

    Hmmm Dragon Riders again??

    by DannyOcean01

    I felt sorry for, was it McCaffery, when Eragon came out a I believe she had that concept nicely laid down already. And now we have another take. I know people say it's not the concepts, but how you present them, but some base originality would be nice. You could say the history angle adds originality, but it sounds a bit shoehorned to me. I mean c'mon dragons in the Napoleonic Wars? Next thing you'll be saying there were Wizards.....Oh wait...The only books that used the concept I can actually comment on were from Weiss and Hickman; Dragons of Autumn Twilight and all that. I remember there was a knight called Sturm and they had these fabled Dragonlances. Now that series would make a great set of films.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 9:28 a.m. CST

    Dragonlance Films

    by KnightEternal

    Think this idea was about to go into motion about 10 yrs ago but the studios wanted to pretty much completly change the story and characters so Weiss and Hickman refused to give over the rights. Would admit that if done right this would make a great trilogy of films

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 10:22 a.m. CST

    "So how about reading the thing before bitching about it?"

    by newc0253

    then what would be the point of reading reviews, dumbass? i don't visit AICN to get the opinion of a bunch of n00bs, just like i don't read car reviews by people who don't drive. i read AICN reviews because they're written by people who - whether i agree with them or not - watch an awful lot of movies. and if someone who - by his own admission doesn't read any modern fantasy except stephen king - tells me that this other fantasy book is really cool, then his review is pretty much a waste of my time. if i had to read every book myself just to see whether i agreed with the critic or not, then it would kinda defeat the point of using reviews in the first place. the next time you feel like responding, grow a brain first.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 10:39 a.m. CST

    Do yourself a favor

    by barryap

    Real Philip Pullman's novels. Trust me.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 10:41 a.m. CST

    "Age of Unreason" does rock

    by Smilin'Jack Ruby

    Crazy brilliant series, really. Enjoyed the hell out of it.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, noon CST

    Do yourself another favor

    by newc0253

    if you read 'The Northern Lights' by Philip Pullman, don't read 'the Amber Spyglass' - it's shit.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 12:07 p.m. CST

    speaking of fantasy books...

    by PVIII

    any news on the Golden Compass films? As long as they aren't nuetered, those would be absolutely amazing films.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 12:59 p.m. CST

    HACK.

    by jaxnnux

    Great job, Quint, you got fooled by another hack. Harry Turtledove, a much better hack, wrote The Darkness series that speculated on the history of WWII fought with magic, dragons, and other strange creatures. The best fantasy RIGHT NOW is A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. He's no fuckin' hack.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 2:01 p.m. CST

    hmm...

    by mikkimouse

    nice to see i'm not the only one who latched on to the pern similarities.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 2:20 p.m. CST

    Dragons...

    by DocPazuzu

    ...are swiftly becoming the vampires of fantasy fiction, much like vampires became the Star Trek of horror about 15 years ago. Why not combine them in the ultimate genre crossover? A moody, goth vampire whose soul has been bound to that of an ancient, noble reptile that breathes fire. They could then pilot a Starfleet vessel together and send the hearts of a million female renaissance fair freaks into overdrive. Think of the fan fiction! The cosplay! The filking!

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 2:35 p.m. CST

    I got a dragon your mom can ride. Nootch.

    by darthferris

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 2:35 p.m. CST

    Quint, check out Gene Wolf's fantasy series

    by DannyOcean01

    Can't remember the names of all of them, but I think the main title was Books of the New Sun. Great story, and a real mix of genres.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 3:16 p.m. CST

    If you're not reading GEORGE R.R MARTIN you're an idiot

    by MattyBoomStar

    Forget this crap he's talking about. Go read A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, start the series, and then you'll see. He's the truth. The only shit worth reading in the genre. Hands down.

  • They will blow your mind. Sex, violence, high concept sci-fi, throw in some horror...and unbelievable action. Totally mind bending stuff, I can't recommend the author enough.

  • They need no explaination.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 3:51 p.m. CST

    The Wheel of Time has degraded into the Wheel of Grind

    by Nerdgasm

    This series started of so stellar I could hardly contain myself...by book six the dialog had become so tedious, the plot so convoluted I can't stand to continue the series. I mean, a guy can only stand stuff like: "Elaine huffed as she pulled her braid and gave the everyone a stare like steel" about 999 times before he goes mad.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 3:58 p.m. CST

    Pullman is great.

    by Nerdgasm

    His Dark Materials, is a great fantasy read. His stuff is oringinal and not a giagantic cliche. Refreshing in a world of "Boy meets dragon, boy finds elvin forged sword, boy is train by sage like mentor, mentor dies, boy conquers evil super powerful mage dictator, peace prevails, boy and dragon live happily ever after...all in a three book set of course.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 4:13 p.m. CST

    sorry to say it, but pullman's trilogy sucks

    by newc0253

    'the northern lights' was a great fantasy book. the second in the 'dark materials' trilogy was so-so. the third was crud from start to finish. as trilogies go, it makes 'matrix revolutions' seem like 'return of the king'.

  • thats the title of the first book in the series, if memory serves. very cool, but very complex and cerebral series. i mean, it is written in the first person, but since the main character has another personality within him due to a cannibilistic ritual halfway through the first book, reading it can get a little confusing at times because it isn't always clear just which first-person personality is talking. still, i agree with your recommendation. good stuff to be sure. just don't read it on acid or you may never come back to this reality, lol.

  • Jan. 9, 2006, 6:59 p.m. CST

    I was also thinking...

    by Everett Robert

    ...about Eargon and Trurtledove when i read this concept. As far as tedious fantasy books go, I loved the Alvin Maker series at the beginnng then about 1/2 though book 4 or 5 I releized it was a "Mormon" Narnia...but that didn't even really bother me but it was just tedious...I think card could have finished that series in about 3 or 4 books...

  • Jan. 10, 2006, 12:01 a.m. CST

    I match your "The Reality Disfunction" and raise Varley's Ga

    by turk128

    John Varley's Gaea trilogy includes the sex, violence, high concept sci-fi, horror, and everything else. Question the existance of gods? In there. Interspecies relationships? In there. It's one mindf*ck after another.*** Or if you want less Gilliam or more 2001, try David Brin's Uplift Saga. Epic, epic, epic. You think humanity is a messed up race, you should see our neighbors.

  • Jan. 10, 2006, 12:52 a.m. CST

    For good fantasy, read The Riftwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist

    by jrbarker

    I'm not big on fantasy anymore. But that series is fantastic.

  • Jan. 10, 2006, 3:23 a.m. CST

    Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy:

    by Hot Carl

    The Reality Dysfunction, The Neutronium Alchemist and The Naked God. All I can say is...holy shit! I must agree with Nerdgasm, they blew me away. World building on an epic scale: sci-fi/horror/action. Those books were the total package. Those books would make a movie trilogy that would make the Matrix look like an afternoon at Sunday School. I don't think it could ever be done (would be much more difficult to do than LOTR for instance)...but someday maybe? The mind boggles.

  • Jan. 10, 2006, 3:46 a.m. CST

    Robin Hobb

    by Lezbo Milk

    Love anything she writes, check her out you won't regret it.

  • Jan. 10, 2006, 4:03 a.m. CST

    turk128

    by DocPazuzu

    I'm with you on Brin's Uplift saga. While reading Startide Rising I was utterly stunned by the vast scope of what a galaxy-wide civilization billions of years old would entail. That was the first time SF actually provoked a feeling in me which approached vertigo. Absolutely mind-boggling. And yes, the Galactics are seriously fucked up.

  • Jan. 10, 2006, 4:51 a.m. CST

    Naomi Noviks own thoughts

    by Wyrdy the Gerbil

    "Temeraire began for me with an era,the Age of Sail and the Napoleonic wars:I wanted to write in this monumental time period and experiment with the contrast between the world shaping events taking place,against the backdrop of every day life,one of the greatest pleasures of speculative fiction is to ask what if...what if there were Dragons" and yes she was influenced by the Pern stories the Hobbit and Earthsea and their various themes about Dragons

  • Jan. 10, 2006, 5:03 a.m. CST

    Peter F. Hamilton

    by Wyrdy the Gerbil

    Night's Dawn Trilogy now your talking.. bring it on and while we`re at it lets have Stephen donaldsons Gap books.. Martins ASOIAF.. Brin's Uplift saga..Alastair Reynolds Inhibitor series..Iain M Banks Culture im game for them

  • Jan. 10, 2006, 7:53 a.m. CST

    Peven

    by DannyOcean01

    Yes, Shadow of the Torturer is the one. I'm on the second collection at the moment, and struggling a little with Wolfe's compression at the end. Other good books to pick up are Hyperion (the Shrike would be one of the great cinematic characters), Ilium, Forever War..

  • would get an NC-17 rating as movies if they kept everything thats in the books. some great character work too. it would be so cool to see Angus Thermopyle realized on-screen. hhmm, as much as so many people despise Jack Black, he certainly looks the part to a T, and would be a chance for him to play someone who is a real low down sonofabitch, at least to start the series. Angus is the ultimate anti-hero, makes Vin Diesel's character in Pitch Black look like a girl scout.

  • Jan. 10, 2006, 10:33 a.m. CST

    George RR Martins: A Song of Ice and Fire

    by Veraxus

    Pick up the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones. If if it dosn't grab you by the balls right away then there is something wrong with you. There are no good guys, no archetypes, no "main" characters, and if you let yourself get attached to any one character too much chances are they are going to die a terrible, horrific death.

  • Jan. 10, 2006, 11:25 a.m. CST

    She aint no Naomi Watts

    by Henry Jones Jr.

    Check out her picture: http://www.cs.columbia.edu/mice/persons/showPerson.php?personID=1506&base=%2Fmice%2Fpersons%2F& She needs to trim those eyebrows, but I'd still let her ride my dragon.

  • Jan. 10, 2006, 11:50 a.m. CST

    Henry, i say this with your best interest in mind....

    by Peven

    ..you have GOT to get out more often dude.

  • Jan. 10, 2006, 3:51 p.m. CST

    Whatever happened to the HYPERION movie??

    by bigdickmcgee

    Best series in sci-fi. First novel Hyperion second best only to Dune.

  • Jan. 11, 2006, 7:25 p.m. CST

    by jaxnnux

    "First novel Hyperion second best only to Dune." Brain explodes.

  • Jan. 12, 2006, 6:35 p.m. CST

    One of the best new fantasy novels and also just great fiction,

    by Orbots Commander

  • Jan. 13, 2006, 6:18 a.m. CST

    A Song of Ice and Fire

    by CuervoJones

    you MUST read those books, trust me

  • Jan. 13, 2006, 4:49 p.m. CST

    Book Reviews

    by trashotron

    Those looking for book reviews of books that AICN readers (like myself) might enjoy could try my website, The Agony Column at trashotron.com -- follow the link to nowhere. FWIW, the podcast of my author interviews which include Chuck Palahniuk, TC Boyle, Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, James Barclay, Richard Morgan and others is now in the New & Notable section of iTunes. I'd second Quint's suggestion of this series for those who enjoyed Strange & Norrell (I have an interview with Susanna Clarke in the podcast as well) and the Patrick O'Brian novels. My slightly obscire suggestion for this thread would be James Barclay.

  • Jan. 15, 2006, 2:52 p.m. CST

    Harry

    by jaxnnux

    Update the damn site!

  • Jan. 16, 2006, 9:15 a.m. CST

    George RR Martin

    by johnnyangelheart

    I don't read a lot of fantasy, haven't read these dragon series mentioned above, but I have been reading Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, and I believe it transcends the fantasy genre much like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Massive cast of characters, all with complete and distinctly different personalities. Fully realized world that they all exist in. Plot follows from characters' personalities, characters are affected and changed by what happens to them. Very mature writing. Not pulp. If thinking about what you're reading appeals to you, if you're looking for a complex story involving complex characters, if you're not afraid of a little darkness in your characters or in their fates, then you gotta read this.

  • Jan. 19, 2006, 11:20 p.m. CST

    George R.R. Martin

    by The Continental

    Fantasy as a genre can be divided into two periods of time, pre A Game of Thrones, and post A Game of Thrones. Martin's series has changed the landscape of the genre in its entirety. Do yourself a favor and pick it up immediately.

  • Feb. 21, 2007, 7:46 p.m. CST

    It's Becoming a movie

    by souldriven

    I'm reading the 3rd book in this book series at the moment and it looks like there's a 4th(at least) on the way. For skeptics of this series; I've read a lot of dragon books and so I have to say this series has a unique flare to it. It's not like Eragon or the Pern books due to it's setting and the fact that dragons have crews. Anyway, the first book is now becoming a movie and being done by the drirector of the LOTR movies so you know it'll be true to the book and good.