Naomi Novik’s debut novel, His Majesty’s Dragon (Del Rey, $7.50, 353 pages), is bound to raise echoes of Capt. Horatio Hornblower and Pern’s dragonriders in any experienced reader, but within a few pages she takes the elements of the Napoleonic Wars and dragon-human bonding and turns them into a book that is all her own.
Capt. Will Laurence of His Majesty’s Navy had no interest in taking to the air on a fighting dragon when his ship captures a French frigate carrying a dragon’s egg. Pern’s dragonriders might be honored, the stuff of legends, but Britain’s version are all but outcasts, isolated from the rest of society by the need to care for their hungry, rambunctious mounts.
Laurence has visions of a childhood friend becoming a sweet wife and a small, orderly home full of joy and children. (Obviously he has not spent much time around small children.) But the newly hatched dragon has other ideas, ignoring the poor soul selected to be his rider and heading straight for Laurence.
The dragon is a charmer, rather resembling a well-behaved, precocious child, who enjoys being read to and loves his bath. Laurence and Temeraire — named for a warship — plunge into the world of the Aerial Corps, undergoing flight training with their fellow human-dragon crews and eventually repulsing Napoleon’s attempt to land troops in Britain.
A second book is promised, and a preview has a Chinese envoy demanding the return of the dragon, which the emperor intended as a gift for Napoleon and which should not be under the control of a mere mortal such as Laurence. But Temeraire, despite his exalted bloodlines, has no intention of being parted from his person.
If “Dragon” is a straightforward tale, Jennifer Fallon’s Wolfblade (Tor, $25.95, 512 pages) is absolutely Byzantine, written around a family worthy of the Borgias. The tale starts simply enough with a 16-year-old princess, Marla Wolfblade, unhappy with the marriage planned to secure borders with a neighboring kingdom. And to be fair, her intended is a lout more suited to a pigpen than a palace. Is it surprising that she falls in love at first sight — or something resembling it — at her very first ball? And to Nashan Hawksword, someone entirely unsuitable?
Lest this sound like “Cinderella,” do be advised that what follows is more like Machiavelli’s “The Prince.” Marla is sent off to the slave market to find someone to teach her the arts of the marital bed — there is a class of slaves specially trained in such matters. But instead of a handsome young thing, Marla comes back with stunted, twisted Elezaar, who has whispered promises not of marital bliss but of power, something Marla, for all her family connections, has not at all.
What follows is an entertaining, if blood-chilling, account of love, hate, treachery, double-dealing and the random murder (or several). Those 512 pages race by with nary a falter, leaving the reader eager for the next installment of the Wolfblade saga.
Magic is either nonexistent or in short supply in the previous offerings, but David Keck’s debut, In the Eye of Heaven (Tor, $25.95, 412 pages), has more than enough to make up the deficit. The book starts out as the tale of a squire training to become a knight and take over the lands of a widower who has lost his only son.
Durand has his life turned upside down on the eve of his knighting when the son reappears after years of wandering and reclaims his rightful place — leaving no room for Durand.
A chance encounter with the men of Lord Radomor secures Durand a place in the world, albeit lowly. And the duty of serving a half-maddened man sends Durand fleeing into the service of disgraced Lamoric, the Red Knight, who has cooked up a half-baked scheme to get back into his family’s good graces. Lamoric is following the tournaments in an attempt to heal his sorry finances and sorrier reputation.
The setting, thus, is an accurate, unromantic look at life under the feudal system that prevailed over much of the world for much of recorded history, where the holding of land was the only sure way of survival, or at least as sure as anything can be in such an arbitrary system.View Entire Story
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