The first question to ask yourself for this new historical series is, “What would the Napoleonic Wars have looked like if dragons existed?” I have loved dragons ever since I started encountering them in literature and tv shows. There is something about the fantastical creatures that are absolutely amazing and captivating. And the premise that Naomi Novik wove into this series is precisely what drew me to read His Majesty’s Dragon, the first book in the Temeraire series.
Despite promising to center around the aerial corp of the Brittish Empire, the book begins at sea aboard a British ship the Reliant and a French ship the Amitie after a skirmish in which the Reliant prevails. One of the spoils of war is a dragon egg. Usually, this is something a crew would cheer over, however, this egg is about to hatch. Something that will not only bring them less reward but also would require one of the crew to sacrifice their naval career to become an aviator.
When the hatching occurs the naval officer who had pulled the short straw tried to harness the dragon. Though when he attempted to the dragon ignored him, and began talking with the Captain of the Reliant. It took Laurence a moment to understand what had just happened, but when he did, he knew that the newly hatched dragon had just upended his life plunging him into the world of the British aerial corp.
Laurence knowing that he would no longer be a naval officer promptly promoted one of his officers to captain and began his duty to bond with Temeraire. His duty was not an easy one, at least not at first. But as time went on, he began to understand not only the complicated life of an aviator but his new charge. And as that understanding deepened, he began to love the creature more than any ship he had ever captained.
Before we move on to the crux of the story, we are informed that Temeraire is an Imperial dragon one of the rarest of Chinese dragons. Shortly after the identification, we move to Temeraire’s and Laurence’s training. That and the changes in Laurence’s life take up most of the work. One of the bigger surprises for Laurence is that the instructor at Loch Laggan is a dragon, but he quickly comes to terms with it, and the pair excels with their training. As their training progresses, Laurence begins to form solid relations with some of the aviators that initially cared little for him because of his naval upbringing that he brought with him. What had turned them was the loyalty Laurence showed to his dragon and those who serve under him.
By the time the climax arrives we have seen just how devoted both dragon and captain are to each other and to what lengths they will do things for one another, so much so that during the final battle we see just how special Temeraire truly is.
The story is a well crafted and a pleasant read, while I never went to the effort to find out how much of the book was historically accurate, it feels accurate, aside from the draconic elements of the book. And the fact that it does feel right is a testament to how much effort the author did when doing her research because aside from those draconic aspects I can absolutely see these events playing out during the Napoleonic wars.