His Majesty's Dragon
The first volume of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, released in the United States by Del Rey (a division of RandomHouse) on March 28, 2006. The story takes place during the Napoleonic Wars, in an alternate version of history in which Dragons not only inhabit the earth, but also make up the air force of most countries. It was published in Great Britain under the original name "Temeraire" (the title "His Majesty's Dragon" being a last-minute change by the United States publishers) by Voyager on January 3, 2006.
The story opens with the HMS Reliant capturing a French vessel; the Amitie. The Reliant’s captain, William Laurence, is alerted to the fact that there is a dragon’s egg in the hold, and it is nearly ready to hatch. To prevent the dragon from going feral, a member of the crew is chosen to become its rider, and a harness for it is hastily made. However, when the egg hatches, the dragon ignores the crew member, and instead chooses Laurence, who names the young dragon Temeraire, after a ship he remembers from his past. Laurence is initially unhappy at the thought of being bound to Temeraire, as the men who fly dragons largely live outside of society, due to them caring for the dragon’s well-being, but by the time the Reliant reaches Britain, Laurence has become fond of Temeraire.
On land, Temeraire is identified by Sir Edward Howe, an expert in dragon breeds, as being an Imperial; a Chinese breed, which comes as a shock, since not only are the Chinese known for their expertise in dragon breeding, but an Imperial has never been seen outside of China. Members of Britain’s Air Force arrive with a trained rider, as a replacement for Laurence, but Temeraire rejects the rider, and Laurence is pleased at this outcome. He and Temeraire are sent to the Loch Laggan covert, where dragons are trained. On the way to the covert, Laurence visits his family in Nottinghamshire, where his father, Lord Allendale, tells him to stay away in future, so as not to draw unnecessary attention, and his childhood sweetheart Edith Galman tells him she cannot consider a formal relationship with him.
Laurence and Temeraire continue to Loch Laggan, where they begin to prepare for training with the other dragons at the covert. Laurence becomes acquainted with some of the riders at the covert, and is initially shocked to discover that many women are members of Britain’s air force. The reason for this is that Longwings, acid-spitting dragons that are the most deadly dragons in Britain, will only consent to having female riders, and as such, women are trained in the camps for work as aviators. Laurence initially is an outcast among the aviators, until he proves himself in their eyes, by helping in the rescue of Victoriatus, a wounded dragon needing assistance to land safely. Laurence has a brief struggle with John Granby, a member of his crew who is also a friend of the rider rejected by Temeraire, but they become comrades soon after Victoriatus’ rescue.
As time passes, and training continues, Temeraire reaches maturity and his appearance changes as he grows a ruff around his head, and tendrils on his jaw. Temeraire continues to train alongside Maximus, a Regal Copper, both scheduled to be part of a formation containing a Longwing, Lily, eventually becoming friends. Laurence also befriends their riders, Captain Berkley, and Catherine Harcourt. Both care greatly for their dragons, like generally every rider, an exception to this being Jeremy Rankin, who views his dragon, Levitas, as little more than a talking beast, and ignores him to the point of abuse. However, since only the dragon can choose whether or not they will leave their rider, nothing can be done to stop this.
One day, Jean-Paul Choiseul, a French royalist who fled during the French Revolution, joins their formation. Not long after this, the riders are informed that they and their dragons are being moved to the Dover covert so they can aid in the war. Their initial battle achieves little more than driving the French away, and Lily is brutally injured by Triumphalis, a French dragon. Caring for her wounded dragon, Harcourt exhausts herself to the point that Choiseul assists her so she can rest. Laurence meets and eventually begins a relationship with Jane Roland, high ranking rider of Excidium, and mother of Emily Roland, a young girl who is a member of Temeraire’s crew.
Hearing a commotion from Lily’s clearing one night, Laurence goes to investigate, and discovers Choiseul attempting to kidnap Harcourt. A brief struggle ensues, and Choiseul is apprehended and taken away, where it is discovered that he is a French spy sent to retrieve Temeraire’s egg, as it was meant for Napoleon himself. He is executed for treason, and his aggrieved dragon, Praecursoris sent to a breeding ground, but Temeraire, Maximus and Lily are all filled with sorrow for him, and fear for their own riders, so they plan to help each other if their riders are sentenced to death, should the situation ever arise.
News of the success at Trafalgar reaches the covert, and Rankin arrives with an urgent message; Napoleon is planning another assault, in which dragons will carry wooden transports filled with men directly to England. Although his stealthy work has aided Britain, it has come at the cost of Levitas, who is dying. Upon discovering this, Laurence drags Rankin to Levitas, and forces him to say a few nice words as the dragon expires. Laurence later hears that an egg is nearly ready to hatch nearby. To prevent Rankin from being assigned to the egg, Laurence recommends his ground-crew master, Hollin, who secretly cared for Levitas when Rankin was absent.
Napoleon’s invasion begins, the French dragons overwhelming the English dragons while the transports land, and soldiers begin the offence. Temeraire and Laurence realise that they are surely beaten, but resolve to try until the battle is lost. Temeraire prepares to attack a transport, and roars towards it. His roar is louder than anything heard before, and the transport weakens and begins to break up in mid-air; the dragons carrying it hurrying to land. This not only comes as a surprise Temeraire and Laurence, but it causes confusion in the French ranks, and the British manage to repel them.
During the victory celebrations, Laurence runs into Sir Edward Howe, who has heard about Temeraire’s unusual attack in the battle, and tells Laurence that he misidentified his breed, as he observed him before he reached maturity; Temeraire is a Celestial, the most valuable Chinese breed of dragon normally reserved for Emperors, and has an ability known as the “Divine Wind”, which allows him to bring down enemies through the strength of his roar. Howe also warns Laurence that once word gets out, Chinese officials will most likely attempt to reclaim Temeraire, but Laurence is not concerned by this, and he and Temeraire return to the celebrations.
For more detail, see Characters introduced in His Majesty's Dragon.
Several excerpts are included from a (fictional) book by Sir Edward Howe detailing the nature of dragons. Also included are sketches of a Yellow Reaper in harness, and a comparison in size of Nitidus, Lily, Temeraire and Maximus. The sketches are not included in the UK release of His Majesty's Dragon (titled Temeraire), but they can be seen on the official website; .
- When still in draft form, "Between Wind and Water" was the working title for the first book. It was sent to publishers under the title "Temeraire", and was later changed to "His Majesty's Dragon" for the US release.
- The dragon depicted on the cover of both versions of His Majesty's Dragon is that of a full-grown Temeraire.
- The US edition of His Majesty's Dragon contains pictures of dragons at the back of the book. These include a Yellow Reaper with harness on, a Pascal's Blue, a Longwing, a Celestial and a Regal Copper. However, the images are inaccurate; the Pascal's Blue and the Longwing are depicted with six wing spines while the Celestial is shown with five, and the Celestial also has only four talons on each foot in the picture.
- Partway through the book, Temeraire converses in French with Praecursoris, but their exchange is never translated. In English it is roughly as follows;
- Temeraire: Excuse me, if I have disturbed you.
- Praecursoris: Not at all. Allow me to present Choiseul to you; he is my Captain.
- Temeraire: And here is Laurence; my Captain.
Deviations From History
Aside from the obvious additions of dragons, the events in Temeraire follow the history of our own world quite closely. However, several differences do occur throughout the series. In "His Majesty's Dragon", the following differences occur:
- Instead of being fatally shot on board the HMS Victory, Admiral Nelson survives, with injuries obtained when an attacking Flecha-del-Fuego sets fire to a section of HMS Victory's rigging which comes crashing down on him.
- The Battle of Trafalgar is revealed to have been an attempt to simultaneously decimate the Royal Navy and keep them occupied while Napoleon Bonaparte invades Britain using transports carried by dragons, resulting in the (ficticious) Battle of Dover.
His Majesty's Dragon is a remarkable and very good book -- especially given that it is Naomi Novik's first novel. It avoids the usual dreaded expository lump, almost a given in setting up a new world -- and presents a story with warmth, delivered with charm and the assumption that readers are intelligent. ~Reviewed by Andi Shechter
"A completely authentic tale, brimming with all the detail and richness one looks for in military yarns as well as the impossible wonder of gilded fantasy." (Editor's Choice, Grade: A) —Entertainment Weekly
"I took a jaundiced view of "cute dragon" books until Novik won me over with her first novel. The combination of military history, sympathetic characters, and engaging style makes this series great, intelligent fun." —The Times (UK)
"Enthralling reading—it's like Jane Austen playing Dungeons & Dragons with Eragon's Christopher Paolini." —Time Magazine
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