Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: The Mists of Avalon

Book Name: The Mists of Avalon
Author: Marion Zimmer Bradley
First Published: 1982
Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel (1984)

Marion Eleanor Zimmer Bradley was an American author of fantasy novels such as The Mists of Avalon and the Darkover series, often writing with a feminist outlook and even, under a pen name, gay and lesbian titles. She was born on a farm in Albany, New York, during the Great Depression, to a father who was a carpenter and farmer and a mother who was a historian. Bradley first attended New York State College for Teachers from which she dropped out after two years. She returned to college in the mid-sixties, where she graduated from Hardin-Simmons University in Texas with a Bachelor of Arts. Bradley moved to California soon after and went on to pursue graduate studies at the University of California, Berkely. She trained not only as a psychologist but also as a parapsychologist. In the end, she became a drop-out once more from not one, but three departments of education, “owing to deep disillusion”. Bradley also trained as a singer, and at one time, in her younger days, worked as a target for a knife thrower in a carnival.

Married twice, both of Bradley’s unions ended in divorce. Her first marriage to Robert Bradley in 1949 lasted fourteen years and they had one son together. Her second marriage to author Walter Breen in 1964 resulted in a son and a daughter, but ended badly in 1990. She had been separated from him for many years before the divorce was finalized.

During the 1950s, as a young wife with a small son, she became involved in the phenomenon known as science fiction fandom, writing for a variety of fanzines for nothing, but in time moved up to sell to professional science fiction digest magazines. It was here that she gained her writing chops and moved on to create novels of her own, becoming a professional full-time writer and editor by the early 1960s. Her main novel series featured a sword and sorcery themed world known as Darkover, but she also wrote short stories, articles and books in other subjects.

As an author, her most popular novel was The Mists of Avalon which was later made into a major motion picture starring Angelica Houston. The book is a retelling of the Camelot legend from the viewpoint of the female characters.

Bradley died in September of 1999. The year after her death, Marion Zimmer Bradley was posthumously awarded the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement.

“There is no such thing as a true tale. Truth has many faces and the truth is like to the old road to Avalon; it depends on your own will, and your own thoughts, whither the road will take you.”
― Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon

The Mists of Avalon is a retelling of the Arthurian legend from the perspective of the female characters. The protagonist is Morgaine, a priestess of Avalon who is King Arthur’s half-sister. When Morgaine is eleven years old and her brother is six, there is an attempt on the young prince’s life. Viviane, known as the Lady of Avalon, and aunt to both Morgaine and Arthur, advises King Uther to have the boy fostered away from court for his safety. She also takes Morgaine to initiate her as a priestess of the Mother and to groom her as the next Lady of Avalon.

Time passes and both Morgaine and Arthur become adults. Arthur claims the throne of Britain and defends his kingdom against the invading Saxons. The Lady of Avalon gives him the sword Excalibur that is enchanted to help him gain victory over his enemies. In return, Viviane asks for Arthur to honor the old religion, to which he agrees.

Morgaine becomes a priestess with the full power the title bestows, being able to open the gate between our world and the fey world of Avalon. Morgaine conceives a child during a fertility rite and learns to her horror that the masked father was actually her own half-brother and that the escapade was arranged by her Aunt Viviane. In Viviane’s Pagan mind, the child’s royal blood on both sides is acceptable, but Morgaine was raised by Christians and she is appalled by the act. Morgaine leaves Viviane and Avalon, wishing to have no more to do with the ancient druid religion. She fosters her son Gwydion with her Aunt Morgause and King Lot, then joins her brother’s court.

Being a former priestess, Morgaine has a reputation for “magic”. She has visions and knowledge of herbal medicines. The childless Gwenhwyfar, Queen to King Arthur, asks Morgaine to create a fertility charm in order to help her conceive the son and heir she longs for. The charm works, but not in the manner that Gwenhwyfar expects. Arthur himself invites his best friend Lancelot to join he and Gwenhwyfar in bed as a threesome. This way, a child might be made “in the king’s bed” and thus still any talk that the child would be illegitimate. The Queen is in love with Lancelot and welcomes the chance to have him, but when the union does not result in a child, she grows angry. Gwenhwyfar rejects pagan magic and turns to Christianity to give her the desired heir. From that point forward, she is an advocate to Arthur to bring Christian values to Britain and to forsake the druidic past.

Eventually, Arthur learns that he has a son and he longs to bring the boy to Camelot. However, Gwenhwyfar will not hear of it. To try and create peace for the knight, Morgaine tricks Lancelet into marrying Gwenhwyfar’s cousin Elaine, which angers Gwenhwyfar further. In retaliation, the Queen schemes to marry Morgaine off to a Welsh King to remove her from court. Morgaine believes she will be marrying the king’s youngest son, Accolon who is a Druid priest and warrior, and agrees to the marriage, Later, she finds herself married to King Uriens himself, a man that is old enough to be her grandfather. Trouble ensues and eventually, Morgaine leaves King Uriens court and Wales forever.

Gwydion goes to the Saxon court when he is grown to learn of warfare away from his father’s notice. The Saxons name him Mordred, which means “evil counsel”. When he joins Arthur’s court in Camelot, he introduces himself as Morgaine’s son and Morgause’s foster-son with no mention of who his father might be. Due to his close resemblance to Lancelot, many in the court believe that he is the knight’s son and do not suspect that he is King Arthur’s heir. Gwydion wishes to earn his place without preferential treatment and challenges Lancelot to single combat during a tourney to prove his mettle. Lancelot and the King are impressed by his skills and Lancelot makes Gwydion a knight of the round table, naming him Mordred.

Mordred is not content with being a knight and eventually, he causes King Arthur more problems. You will need to read the book to learn the final outcome of this engrossing tale.

The Mists of Avalon Book CoverI first read The Mists of Avalon when I was in my twenties and it has stuck with me down through the years. I enjoyed the movie that followed and own a copy in my collection. Bradley’s prose is not the strongest, but her descriptions and characters are compelling. In Morgaine, Bradley has created a sympathetic character who makes mistakes, hopes and dreams of a better life and ultimately is swept away by the events of her times.

The central theme is the fall of the old Druid religion and how it was replaced by Christianity. Bradley is not complimentary toward Christians in her book, and normally I would find this to be a detraction, but the unfolding description of Pagan religion is fascinating in its depth. The isle of Avalon felt much like a character with its symbolic dissolving into the mists as the old religion faded from the hearts of the English people.

The book is extremely feminist in theme from the matriarchal Pagan society led by the Lady of Avalon, to the relationship struggles of the various Queens and their control over their Kings. I liked experiencing Arthurian legend via the eyes of its women, it was a unique viewpoint and not something that had been done before.

While I personally enjoyed The Mists of Avalon, I do not know if I would recommend this book to everyone. To men that prefer action and deeds, I fear that they would find this book to be slow and as full of relationships as a romance novel. To Christians who are strong in their faith, I would also be hesitant. The anti-Christian sediments of the author run strong. For people that enjoy a feminist message with fantasy elements, for there is true magic in the book although it is subtle, this novel will have a high appeal.

Book Review: The Martian

Book Name: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
First Published: 2011

Author Andy Weir was born and raised in Southern California. His father is an accelerator physicist and his mother an electrical engineer. Weir grew up reading classic science fiction. His favorite authors were Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. When he was 15, was hired by Sandia National Laboratories as a computer programmer. While Weir has studied computer science at UC San Diego in California, he has not obtained a graduate degree. Instead, he has been working as a programmer for software companies such as AOL, Palm, MobileIron, and Blizzard.

Weir has been writing stories since his mid-twenties. His first short story, The Egg has been adapted into YouTube videos. His first novel The Martian began as a free series on his website in 2009. As the story progressed, his readers gave him pointers and helped him with the scientific aspects of the story. The Martian is based on real life science and the Ares missions are ones that have been proposed to NASA. As time went on, many of his readers asked if he would make the story available on kindle. He then offered it on Amazon for 99 cents. The novel ended up being on the Kindle bestseller list. Later, Weir was approached by a literary agent and sold the rights of the book to Crown Publishing Group. The print version debuted #12 on the New York Times Bestseller list. It has gone on to be made into a major motion picture by the same name and starring Matt Damon. The twentieth-first Century Fox film was released in October of 2015.

Weir is reportedly at work on a second novel. He currently resides in Southern California.

“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”
― Andy Weir, The Martian

Ares 3 is the latest mission to Mars. The six-person crew is there to study for 31 days before flying home. During a freak wind storm, astronaut and botanist Mark Watney is left behind and believed dead when he is impaled by a flying antenna during the evacuation. Due to the way he fell and was covered by sand, his suit was able to retain its pressure. When Watney comes to, he is able to return to the “hab”, a tent-like habitat and care for his injuries. He has no way to contact the ship or earth to let them know that he has survived.

It does not take Watney long to realize that even though he has survived his accident, it will be four long years before Ares 4 returns to Mars. While the Hab has enough air and water due to generating it, he does not have enough food to last that long. When going over the supplies, he discovered a package of real potatoes that was being saved for Thanksgiving dinner. Using his skill as a botanist, Watney creates compost from his own human waste and the martian soil and using the potatoes in the package as a seed crop. Soon, his hab is a mini-potato farm making him plenty of extra food.

In order to contact NASA, Watney realizes that the pathfinder probe is not too far away and he travels to it. When it is uncovered from the sand, its solar panels give it enough power to turn on. Watney devises a way to communicate with NASA via this primitive system until they can reprogram a connection in his rover to type back and forth. Watney is no longer alone and learns that a mission to rescue him is being planned.

Watney plans to drive his rover 2000 miles to Schiaparelli crater where the Ares 4 craft is waiting and making fuel for the next mission. He modifies one of the rovers for the mission, adding solar cells and an additional battery.

During this time, a freak accident creates a tear in the Hab and an airlock breaches. Watney’s second harvest is destroyed along with his compost. He does not have supplies to start his farm anew. He is once again threatened with starvation. NASA attempts to send him a resupply ship, but due to their haste, the rocket is destroyed in liftoff. Thanks to the Chinese, a second rocket is made available, but NASA is unsure if this second attempt will work.

A young astrodynamicist named Rich Purnell, discovers a “slingshot” trajectory that could get Hermes, the original spaceship that the crew is using to return to Earth, to whip around the Earth to gain speed and return to Mars faster than a second ship could. The chinese rocket could be used to send the supplies to Hermes so they and Watney would have enough air and food to survive, but this method would add an additional 500 days to their journey.

The space director is unwilling to risk the lives of the entire crew, but Captain Lewis learns of Purnell’s plan and decides to force the issue after taking it up with her crew. They are all willing to take the additional risk and the extra time in space if it will save their crewmate and friend.

Watney resumes his work on the rover and sets off on his long trek across the Martian surface to Ares 4. He faces many challenges along the way, each one of them coming close to killing him. The journey takes months of hard labor and loneliness. Meanwhile, Hermes is traveling back to Mars to get their man.

Will martian Mark Watney be rescued? You will need to read the book to find out.

The Martian Book CoverI read The Martian last year on a whim. I had heard good reviews on the story, but Weir was an unknown author to me who started out by posting his novel on a blog! While I am a supporter of independent authors, I am one myself after all, I was not sure if I was ready for a hard science SF novel. Well, my socks were blown off by this book and I fell in love with it. While the characters were not particularly deep, the sheer force of the depiction of living on the planet Mars with present day technology was astonishing. The planet Mars is as much a main character as Mark Watney and it is a powerful antagonist. As the logical mishaps befallen our astronaut, you start to root for the geeky Watney and his quest to stay alive long enough for NASA to rescue him. I could not put the book down.

The Martian is also a success story from an independent author point of view. This is Weir’s first novel and it was more a hobby to him than a career choice. By his own account he was not in writing to make a living. He hit the jackpot with his kindle book that snowballed into a traditional publishing deal and now a movie. It is every indy author’s dream and a one in a million circumstance. Kudos to Mr. Weir. I greatly look forward to his next novel.

Book Review: The Crystal Cave

Book Name: The Crystal Cave
Author: Mary Stewart
First Published: 1970

Lady Mary Stewart was born in Sunderland, England, the daughter of a vicar. She graduated from Durham University in 1938 with full honors in English. While she hoped to become a university professor, due to World War II, jobs were very scarce and she shifted gears, got a teaching certificate and taught primary school instead. After the war ended, she went on to earn a master’s degree and was hired as a lecturer of English Language and Literature at the Durham University.

It was during her years lecturing at Durham where she met a fellow lecturer, a young Scot who spoke of Geology, by the name of Frederick Stewart. They married within three months of their meeting at a VE Day dance in 1945. When she was 30, Lady Stewart had an ectopic pregnancy that was undiscovered for many weeks and damaged her. She lost the child and was not able to have any further children.

In 1956, her husband became a professor of Geology and Mineralogy at Edinburgh University in Scotland. Instead of continuing to teach, Mary Stewart decided to submit a novel to publisher Hodder & Stoughton. They accepted her book and it was an immediate success. She continued to write in many genres such as romantic suspense, poetry, and her famous Merlin Series which is a mix of fantasy and historical fiction.

Mary Stewart was a popular best-selling author throughout the 1950s through the 1980s. Her novel The Moonspiners was made into a Disney movie. After T.H. White produced his book The Sword in the Stone, Arthurian legends became popular. Mary Stewart soon after published The Crystal Cave and it was a huge hit. In the 1990’s it was adapted into a BBC TV series called Merlin of the Crystal Cave and starred Robert Powell as Ambrosius.

In 1974, Frederick Stewart was knighted and Mary became Lady Stewart, although she did not often use the title. She and her husband lived happily in both Edinburgh and Loch Awe, Scotland and were avid gardeners and shared a love for nature. He passed on in 2001. Mary followed him in 2014.

“The gods only go with you if you put yourself in their path. And that takes courage.”
― Mary Stewart, The Crystal Cave

Arthurian legends normally are told via the perspective of King Arthur. The Crystal Cave takes a departure from this trend by following the life of Merlin the Wizard or as he is called in this tale, Myrddin Emrys.

Myrddin begins his story when he is six years old and follows him until he is a young man. The Romans have departed Britain and it is now divided into many smaller kingdoms, loosely united under a High King. Myrddin is the son of a Welsh princess who declines to name his sire. He is small for his age and often neglected. He also has clairvoyant visions. This second sight causes him to be called as “the son of a devil”. He is educated by a hermit named Galapas who teaches him how to use his psychic talents and creates in him a young man of many intellectual talents in a age when brawn and fighting with a sword is more prized. Eventually, Myrddin finds his way to the court of Ambrosius Aurelianus of Brittany. Ambrosius wishes to invade Britain and become its High King. With him is his brother and heir, Uther.

When it is revealed that Myrddin is Ambrosius bastard son, he must leave the court. He returns to his home, only to discover that his teacher Galapas has been killed. He is captured by Vortigern, the usurper king of Britain. The usurper is building a fort, but the land is unstable at the chosen location and the walls tumble on a regular basis. Due to his education, Myrddin realizes that the walls fall because of a series of caves that are directly beneath the fort, but he informs Vortigern that the problem is due to dragons living in the ground. Soon after this, Amrosius invades and defeats Vortigern.

Myrddin uses his engineering talents to rebuild Stonehenge, but while doing so, he has visions of his father’s death. When a comet appears and Ambrosius dies, his half brother Uther Pendragon takes the throne.

The Crystal Cave Book CoverI stumbled onto Mary Stewart’s Merlin books in college. I loved Sword in the Stone and later Mists of Avalon, so another series of books about King Arthur and his knights was very welcome. I was surprised to learn that The Crystal Cave followed the original story of Merlin instead of Arthur. Stewart did an amazing amount of historical research to bring her novels into line with the original legends. She created a more organic and natural Merlin, an educated man, than wizard. The bringing in of psychic arts and druid religion gave the stories just enough of a fantasy touch to set them apart. It is a classic tale that has stood the test of time. If you love Arthurian legend, this is a series for you.

The Merlin Series

The Crystal Cave (1970)
The Hollow Hills (1973)
The Last Enchantment (1979)
The Wicked Day (1983)
The Prince and the Pilgrim (1995)

Book Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Book Name: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Author: Arthur C. Clarke
First Published: 1968

Sir Arthur Charles Clarke was considered one of the “big three” founders of the genre of science fiction, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Issac Asimov. He was a British science fiction author, futurist, inventor, undersea explorer and a television series host. He is the recipient of numerous Hugo and Nebula awards.

Clarke was born in Somerset, England and grew up in Bishops Lydeard. He grew up on a farm and spent his youth stargazing and reading old American science fiction pulp magazines. As a teenager, he joined the British Interplanetary Society and proposed a satellite communication system idea that later won him the Franklin Institute’s Stuart Ballantine Medal and other honors. Later in life, he would go on to become the chairman of the Institute.

During World War II, he served in the Royal Air Force as a radio specialist. His work in the early warning radar defense system helped contribute to the RAF’s victories during the Battle of Britain. He also served in the ranks, starting as a corporal instructor on radar and then was commissioned as a Pilot Officer and later as a Flying Officer. By the end of the war, he was the chief training instructor at RAF Honiley at Warwickshire with the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

When the war ended, he returned to school and earned a degree in mathematics and physics from King’s College London. It was during this time that he wrote many articles about telecommunication relays and geostationary satellites. He wrote many non-fiction books describing the technical details and implications of rocketry and space flight. In recognition of his work in the field, the geostationary orbit 22,000 miles above the equator is known officially as a Clarke Orbit.

In 1956, Clarke emigrated to Sri Lanka, the official reason was to pursue his interest in scuba diving. He discovered the underwater ruins of an Koneswaram Temple in Trincomalee. Although it was not made public at the time, Clarke had become close to a Sri Lankan man, Leslie Ekanayake, whom Clarke called his “only perfect friend of a lifetime” in a dedication in one of his novels.

By this time, Clarke had written many books, both technical non-fiction and science fiction. However, his crowning achievement would be a movie that brought his work into the mainstream. 2001: A Space Odyssey began as a 1968 movie developed in concert Clark and filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. Both developed the story as the film was shot, but in the end, only Arthur C. Clark was credited with writing both the film and the movie. The story is based on various short stories by Clark, but the one used the most was The Sentinel of Eternity (1948), a story he wrote for a BBC competition. Although Sir Arthur C. Clarke has published well over 100 novels, many of them winners of the Hugo and Nebula awards, he is most famous for this novel and the accompanying movie. It is an enduring classic film that has stood up to the test of time.

The author lived in Sri Lanka until his death in 2008, being knighted in 2000 by Queen Elizabeth, although he was in poor health and could not receive the honor in person. He was also awarded Sri Lanka’s highest civil honor, Sri Lankabhimanya in 2005. Clarke chose to be buried with Ekanayake in the Colombo central cemetery upon his death. Although he had been married to a woman for a short time in 1953, it is thought that he chose to emigrate to Sri Lanka where homosexuality was more tolerated at that time. He had no children.

“He was moving through a new order of creation, of which few men had ever dreamed. Beyond the realms of sea and land and air and space lay the realms of fire, which he alone had been privileged to glimpse. It was too much to expect that he would also understand.”
― Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey is a series of vignettes about an ancient and unknown race of aliens that use a device in the shape of a monolith to encourage the development of intelligent life. The first occurrence on Earth appears in ancient Africa four million years ago where it helps a group of proto-humans to invent tools. The clubs they develop help them kill animals and thus allow them to eat meat and survive.

The book then moves ahead to 1999, showing Dr. Floyd’s journey to Clavius Base on the Moon. He attends a meeting where another monolith is discovered, this one is the first known in human history. How it got there on the Moon is a mystery. Floyd and a team of scientists are viewing the monolith when the sun touched upon it. The monolith sends a radio transmission to one of the moons of Saturn, Iapetus. The scientists decide to investigate further and plan a mission to the moon.

The next vignette features Astronaut David Bowman and Francis Poole. Their ship is guided by a computer, HAL 9000 who is an AI. HAL tells Bowman that one of the units in the ship is faulty, but when Poole goes to check on it, he finds that there is nothing wrong. Bowman and Poole consult with Earth and are told to disconnect HAL for analysis. The instructions on how to do this are interrupted by a broken signal and HAL informs the two astronauts that the same unit has malfunctioned.

Poole goes EVA to remove the malfunctioning unit and is killed when his spacesuit is ripped. Bowman is suspicious that HAL may have had something to do with Poole’s “accident”. He decides to wake the other three astronauts who are in deep sleep, not only for their safty, but because he feels he needs help. As he starts their awakening process, HAL opens both airlocks. Bowman manages to escape in an emergency shelter and from there he is able to shut down the AI’s consciousness.

Upon contacting Earth, he learns that his mission is not just to explore Iapetus, the moon around Saturn, but to seek out the aliens that created the monolith on the Moon. The astronaut discovers that there is another monolith on the Iapetus, but it is much larger than the one that had been buried on the Moon. As he approaches it, the monolith opens up and swallows him. The last message Bowman sends back to Earth is, “The thing’s hollow – it goes on forever – and – oh my God! – it’s full of stars!”

What happens next is astonishing and you’ll have to read the book to find out all the details.

2001 A Space Odyssey book coverI have not read many of Clarke’s novels. They always seemed to be a little dry to me, more high concept than character driven. Yet, I can not deny the impact that this “big three” author has had on the genre.

I was introduced to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey at filmschool. Stanley Kubrick is a much studied and renown filmmaker and the collaboration he did with Clarke created a piece of cinema that is a stand-alone classic that should be seen. Until I researched this book review, I had not realized that Kubrick and Clarke had worked as partners on the story and I believe this accounts for the highly visual and emotional impact of both film and book. The details of Clarke’s novel are similar to the movie (the book goes to Saturn and the movie to Jupiter), but the science is more explained by Clarke and the ambiguous ending of the film is not a part of the book. Clarke gives you a resolution worthy of a grandmaster of science fiction. I am glad that I have read 2001: A Space Odyssey and seen the movie. Both are classics that every lover of science fiction should partake.

Book Review: His Majesty’s Dragon

Book Name: His Majesty’s Dragon
Author: Naomi Novik
First Published: 2006

Naomi Novik was born in New York in 1973 and raised on Long Island. Novik learned to read at an early age and her favorite books were by J.R.R. Tolkien and Jane Austen. She studied English Literature at Brown University and did graduate work in Computer Science at Columbia University. She became involved in the design and development of the computer game Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide, but soon realized that she enjoyed writing books more than creating video games.

Novik’s first novel is His Majesty’s Dragon which is the beginning of the Temeraire series. She has won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel, and the Locus Award for Best First Novel. Several of the Temeraire novels have gone on to be New York Times bestsellers and the books are options by Peter Jackson to be turned into a movie or television series in the future.

She is a member of the board for the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW), an organization dedicated to the promotion of fan fiction, fan videos, and real-person fiction.

Novik is currently a resident of Manhatten and is married to entrepreneur and author Charles Ardai. They have one child.

“And we must still try or we would be leaving our friends to fight without us. I think this is what you have meant by duty, all along; I do understand, at least this much of it.”
― Naomi Novik, His Majesty’s Dragon

His Majesty’s Dragon begins in the year four (1804) during Britain’s struggles in the Napoleonic war with France. This is a tale of alternate history where dragons are alive and well and an accepted part of the landscape. They come in many sizes and breeds. Some spit fire or acid, others can turn on a dime in the air. When a dragon hatches, humans “put it in harness” in order to control the creature and use it for the war. Each dragon imprints on a human who becomes it companion and Captain.

The HMS Reliant captures a 36-gun frigate during battle and the crew discovers that a dragon egg was being ferried within. Captain William Laurence declares the dragon egg a prize. The egg is about to hatch and Laurence gathers his officers together in the hope that the hatchling will imprint on one of them. The small black dragon with unusual six spines on his wings chooses Captain Laurence, much to his chagrin. Laurence names his new charge “Temeraire” after a second-rate French ship that was also captured and brought into service for England. The name means “reckless”.

Laurence and Temeraire are inducted into Britain’s Aerial Corps. Laurence is used to the Royal Navy where the world is spit and polish formal and he is much respected as a ship’s Captain. He is in for a shock by the change of his status when he joins the Corps. The Captains who do battle with their dragons are an informal lot and the Corps itself is looked down upon as the least of all the branches of service. Still, despite the hardship to his character and career, Laurence develops an affection for the young dragon. He learns that Temeraire is a Chinese Imperial dragon, one that is meant to bond with an emperor and is the second most rare type of dragon in the world. Only a Chinese Celestial, known for its powerful breath of “divine wind”, is more rare.

Life in the Corps takes adjustment, but Laurence and Temeraire train together to become a battle unit. He and his dragon adopt a flight and ground crew that supports Temeraire in his care and during battle. Laurence also meets the mother of one of his crew, Jane Roland, with whom he develops a relationship.

During the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), Napoleon’s navy and aerial strength is diminished. The moral of the Captains and their dragons is high during this victory for England, but during their celebrations, a Captain and his mortally wounded dragon arrive at Dover with important intelligence. Napoleon does not plan to send his troops by sea as expected, instead he will send them by air using transports hauled by dragons. This news ends the celebrations as the Captains prepare their dragons for combat, knowing that they will be outgunned and outnumbered.

Laurence and Temeraire fly out with their formation to meet the French aerial armada, their mission is to destroy the transports. It is the final test of their team: The young dragon who is deemed unlikely to develop a breath weapon and the former seaman transformed into a flight captain. Can they meet the challenge ahead and save Britain from Napoleon’s armada? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

His Majestey's Dragon Book CoverI’ve been a fan of books about dragons starting with McCaffery’s creations on the planet of Pern. I am also a huge fan of Jane Austen and Tolkien, so when His Majesty’s Dragon came on the bookshelves in 2006, I purchased a book immediately. I was transported into a “flinklock” world of the battles between Britain and France due to Napoleon’s rise to power in the early 1800’s. There was one little change in the history of this book, dragons were real and a part of the art of war, much like elephants were used in battle in India and other South Asian countries throughout history, but these giant creatures have wings.

Novik has a way of blending the fantasy elements into the details of her alternate history story that make these ideas seem natural and believable. The tale is mainly about the relationship between Captain Laurence and the dragon Temeraire and how they become comrades in arms and close friends, but the world building that surrounds these two characters is what makes the book shine. There is somewhat uneven pacing in places. I found the training section to be slower than the progressive battle scenes with the dragons and their onboard crews shooting with powder guns at the enemy. The romance between Laurence and Jane Roland was less than to be desired and perhaps could have even been cut out.

My favorite parts of the book is when Temeraire is a dragonet onboard the HMS Reliant and the budding relationship he has with the Captain of the ship. The antics of the young dragon are incredibly cute, rather reminding one of training a new puppy. I enjoyed the Aerial Corps where the conduct is casual and more modern than Laurence is used to and WOMEN are also Captains of the fighting dragons since one of the breeds will only accept a female as its bondmate. It gives a modern edge to this 19th century tale that is a breath of fresh air. (Forgive the pun.)

His Majesty’s Dragon is the first of a series, the final book coming out in 2016. Novik is an excellent author and sure to please fans who would not mind a little fantasy and dragons mixed in with their historical regency era fiction.

The Temeraire Series:

His Majesty’s Dragon (2006) / Temeraire (UK)
Throne of Jade (2006)
Black Powder War (2006)
Empire of Ivory (2007)
Victory of Eagles (2008)
Tongues of Serpents (2010)
Crucible of Gold (2012)
Blood of Tyrants (2013)
League of Dragons (forthcoming, 2016)