TEMERAIRE by Naomi Novik (Published as HIS MAJESTY’S DRAGON in the US.)
Excellent first book. It’s the Napoleonic wars with dragons. The author doesn’t interfere much with history—the same battle take place at the same time and place, as far as I can tell, and the same side wins, but dragons are also involved. Will Laurence is the Captain of an English ship that captures a French ship. The French ship is carrying a dragon’s egg, a great prize, which hatches before they reach shore. A dragon that is not harnessed before its first meal becomes feral so it is important for England’s war effort that the dragon be harnessed, although this means whoever harnesses the dragon will have to leave the Navy and join the Aerial Corps, an unwelcome fate. The dragon chooses Laurence, much to his dismay. Most of the book is about Laurence’s developing relationship with Temeraire, as he names the dragon, their training, and the Aerial Corps. There are a few battles but they don’t dominate. The author seems to have a good feel for the period which shows in the characters’ speech and behaviour.–Margaret
MELUSINE by Sarah Monette
Another first book that I enjoyed in spite of its faults. I could go on and on about the faults but this would be unfair to the book, which is well worth a read, and unfair to the author as I feel most of them are “first novel” faults.
The story is told in first person narrative, alternating between Felix Harrowgate, a wizard of the Mirador a member of the ruling council, and lover of the Lord Protector’s brother, and Mildmay, thief and paid killer of the Lower City.
Felix’s story starts when an enemy at court discloses part of the very murky past Felix has gone to a lot of trouble to conceal. This knocks Felix off balance and he seeks out Malkar, his old master who trained and abused him for many years. Malkar, who probably set this up, uses him to break the Virtu, a magical crystal that protects the city. Felix comes out of this mad and unable to say what happened, and is found guilty of the Virtu’s destruction. As Felix spends most of the book mad it is a pity that we didn’t get to see much of him before disaster struck.
Meanwhile, down in the Lower City, Mildmay has been hired to retrieve some jewellery that a pretty shop girl, the erstwhile mistress of a minor lord, thinks she is entitled to. A simple job, but it develops ramifications which result in Mildmay’s getting in the bad books of a very powerful and nasty person. Circumstances compel Felix and Mildmay to leave the city and they eventually meet. Felix has had dreams that lead him to believe that he will be cured if he can get to the Gardens of Nephele. When he gets free of his guards he sets off for them and Mildmay insists on accompanying him.
MELUSINE is the first half of a book, although this isn’t mentioned anywhere, which explains the weak ending and probably explains the disappearance of most of the characters. Monette is a bit weak in plotting and has a tendency to keep important information from the reader which make some people’s actions and motivations somewhat incomprehensible. All may be revealed in the sequel but that doesn’t help this book. She is, however, excellent at characters and relationships. Even minor characters seem solid and the changing relationships are fascinating. There are a few romances in this book but none end happily, and there is a potential one but with a high ick factor. There are some distressing scenes but anyone who enjoys Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books should be OK.–Margaret