Book Review | His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

Genre : Alternate history/Fantasy
Date Published : March 28, 2006
Publisher : Del Ray

For this week’s blog post, I’m doing a bit of a throwback ~ His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik (the first in the Temeraire series!). The past few months I’ve been reading quite a lot of Regency fantasy novels (Sorcerer Royal series by Zen Cho and the Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal to name a few others!) as research for the Regency fantasy novel I’m currently working on. It’s been so wonderful seeing the many different approaches writers take to the genre. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I fell in love with His Majesty’s Dragon.

Growing up, my mom loved (LOVED!) the Horatio Hornblower television series, and so from the very start this book felt so nostalgic and familiar. I remember watching this show with my mom a lot as a kid, but most my memories of it involve 1) Lots of Big Boats and 2) Very Proper English Captains. The Temeraire series starts off in a similar vein – Will Laurence, our MC, is a captain in the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. After a grueling naval battle, Captain Laurence’s ship takes a French vessel under their control and are lucky enough to find a dragon egg aboard the ship. Life in the Aerial Corps is generally frowned upon by polite English society, and so the crew draws lots to see who will harness the dragon when it hatches (and thus be bound to the dragon for life). All their preparation is for naught, however – when the dragon hatches, he takes an immediate liking to Laurence, who is then forced to harness and name him (Temeraire!). The rest is history!

I felt so connected with Laurence throughout the book – I even shared his apprehension towards dragons in the beginning! My truth is that before this book, I was not a dragon girl (I’m a unicorn gal through and through). I am ashamed to admit it, but before reading this book, I thought dragons were, dare I say, kind of corny. But from the moment Temeraire hatched from the egg, I was as smitten with him as Captain Laurence came to be! Every time he called Temeraire “my dear,” I had to put the book down so I could smile. It was so adorable. This series made me a Dragon Girl convert, which really is saying something.

What I loved most about this book was just how well integrated dragons were into the world. At first I thought the first half of the book was going to deal with Laurance learning about/coming to terms with the fact that dragons existed. I was pleasantly surprised that everyone in Novik’s world already knew about dragons – the big thing that Laurence had to learn was how to be a good friend/dragon companion and how to navigate his shifting position in society as a result of joining the Aerial Corps.

“I should rather have you than a heap of gold, even if it were very comfortable to sleep on.” 

I also loved the ways in which Novik involved women in the story – it was such a brilliant move to have some dragons only take female handlers, thus forcing the Aerial Corps to secretly take women on as captains (a practice that is completely unheard of in the Army and Navy!). Watching Laurence grapple with the idea of women being more than swooning maidens was truly a delight to read – I can’t wait to read the next two books in the series and see more of Captain Roland and Captain Harcourt.

I was also so impressed with Novik’s ability to write captivating battle scenes. In general, I don’t enjoy war stories, and so I was super impressed by how engaging the battles were to read. Novik was so knowledgeable about battle strategy and aerial/naval terminology – even though I sometimes had no idea what she was talking about, she wrote these scenes with such conviction that I didn’t struggle with visualizing any of the battles. I even cried while reading one of the battles (COMPLETELY UNHEARD OF!!!).

My biggest takeaway from His Majesty’s Dragon was just how fun it was to be pushed out of my reading comfort zone. Dragons, war, and men are pretty low on my reading list requirements right now, but Naomi Novik is such a genius that I found myself actually enjoying all three of these subjects! I can’t wait to read the rest of the series and see what happens next ~

Rating: 10 adorable talking dragons out of 10.

-Emory

Book Review | The True Queen by Zen Cho

Genre : Historical Fantasy
Date Published : March 12, 2019
Publisher : Ace Books

I picked up Zen Cho’s first novel The Sorcerer to the Crown waaaaay back in 2016. I was living in London, finishing up my dissertation, and in desperate need of a light-hearted book to get me through the week. A Waterstones employee handed me a copy, describing it as “Harry Potter plus Jane Austen…but better….” and so of course I had to buy it! I fell completely in love with Zen Cho’s beautiful prose and exceptional world-building, and I was so excited to hear that its companion novel The True Queen was coming out this year!

The True Queen is technically a stand-alone novel with only a few spoilers for Sorcerer to the Crown (I didn’t know this going into it, so I frantically reread Sorcerer the week before The True Queen came out – but literally no regrets!). It follows sisters Muna and Sakti, who survive a terrible storm off the coast of Janda Baik and wake on the beach to find that they have no memories. All they know is that Sakti has magic and Muna has absolutely none at all. They’re taken in by the witch Mak Gengang (ARGUABLY THE BEST CHARACTER OF ALL TIME) who tries to restore their memories to no avail. After discovering that Sakti is under a dangerous curse, Muna and Sakti are sent to England for safe-keeping. On their journey, Sakti mysteriously disappears into the world of the Unseen (aka Fairy) leaving Muna on her own in England to discover a way to save her sister. Regency hijinks ensue. (Said hijinks includes two – yes TWO – glamorous balls this time around, so put on your dancing shoes, y’all).

Much like Sorcerer to the Crown, The True Queen deftly deals with issues of race, gender, sexuality, religion, and imperialism. In order to find and save her sister Sakti, Muna is forced to navigate an inherently racist and sexist “high society” on her own – all while keeping up the illusion that she has magical powers. The magic in this novel is also particularly thrilling – I loved seeing Cho expand on the mythos of Janda Baik, and the different ways in which characters from different parts of the world viewed the same thing (the Unseen VS Fairy // Malaysian approaches to magic VS English approaches to magic) and how these worlds intertwine.

“I don’t dislike cabbage,” Muna found herself saying, “but I should not consider marrying it. Not disliking seems a poor foundation for future happiness.” 

I went into The True Queen expecting it to start where Sorcerer left off. I was a teeny tiny bit disappointed that we didn’t see more of Prunella and Zacharias, BUT once I was a few chapters in, I really became immersed in the story. I loved how democratic Cho was with her POV choices – the majority of the story takes place from Muna’s POV, but we also get to see into the minds of Prunella, Rollo, Henrietta, Clarissa, Georgiana Without Ruth, and even Henrietta’s father (which is probably the most hilarious scene in the entire novel). Seeing all of these brilliant side characters more fully fleshed out was such a pleasure, and makes me very excited for the as of yet untitled third book in the series!!

Also, SPOILERS, but my favorite part of The True Queen is the love story we get at the end between Muna and Henrietta! I wish it had been incorporated a bit sooner and that we’d gotten to see more of Muna’s affections for Henny, but I was SOOOO stoked that we got a F/F relationship in this book!!!!! Queer Regency Fantasy is truly the only thing I want in my life right now, and I was so delighted by this literal gift from Zen Cho! The last few pages made my heart sing, and I am going to be recommending this book for the rest of my life.

My rating:

8.5 Queer Dragon Sisters out of 10

-Emory

Book Review | The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty

Genre : High Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
Date Published : January 22, 2019
Publisher : Harper Voyager

For my first ever book review, I chose S.A. Chakraborty’s The Kingdom of Copper. It is the second book in her Daevabad Trilogy, an epic fantasy series set in an alternate eighteenth century Egypt. I read the first book, The City of Brass, after my sister Mary loaned it to me, and I fell in love with it immediately. After finishing, I loaned it to my mom, and as soon as she was done, I took it back and loaned it to Emory. And then, to complete the circle, Emory gave it back to Mary this past Christmas in preparation for The Kingdom of Copper being released. So it was that kind of book – the kind of book that you pass around, shoving it into someone else’s hands while saying, “You have to read this!” And The Kingdom of Copper did not fail to make me feel the same way. I reached out to all the people I knew had read the first book and asked for their thoughts – I needed to talk someone about this amazing series that reminded me of all the reasons I love fantasy so much.

The book begins right where the story left off, using the same alternating POV form that the first book introduced. If, like me, you haven’t read The City of Brass since it initially came out, you may find yourself a tad confused/unable to remember some key world-building details. Luckily, Chakraborty includes a glossary of people and terms in the front and back of the book, which I highly recommend for refreshing your memory. It brings you up to speed on the history of the six tribes of the djinn, as well as the reigns of different rulers in Daevabad – ranging from the human prophet Suleiman (who used a magic seal to subdue and control the djinn) to the current ruler, King Ghassan, who, well, is not a nice guy, to put it frankly. Now, onto the book! (Warning for slight spoilers for The City of Brass).

Chakraborty immediately catches you up with our three main characters, Nahri, Ali, and (kind of a spoiler alert, but also not, since it was heavily hinted that he’d be back) Dara. But as soon as you get re-introduced to everyone, the book jumps five years into the future, forcing the reader to quickly adjust to the new (and very bleak) realities facing the characters.

After a failed escape that resulted in losing both her lover and her closest friend (with one ‘killing’ the other), Nahri has been forced to marry the crown prince Muntadhir, aligning herself with the royal family that de-throned her own. Every move she makes is under scrutiny, and this makes her desire to help and protect the Shafit (beings of both djinn and human ancestry, who are treated as less than second-class citizens) near impossible. But of course that doesn’t stop her from trying. Ali, who has been exiled for treason, finds a new home deep in the desert where he explores the mysterious and increasingly dangerous powers he gained at the end of the first book. Dara, who now has his own chapters, has been brought back by Manizheh (the original Nahid) to help train an army to take back Daevabad from King Ghassan. This puts him once again at odds with Ali – since, you know, he’s the exiled prince and all.

We see the characters grow in their individual plots, making new alliances and friendships with beautifully developed side characters that we only got glimpses of in the first book. The alternating POV form allows us to see how none of the original three characters seem to be on the same side when it comes to the future of Daevabad. This forces the reader to question who is right and who is wrong, while simultaneously wanting all of them to be happy. I’m still not sure who I was rooting for! The three plot lines can feel like a lot to keep up with, and at times it feels like Chakraborty keeps the main characters apart (and unaware of each other’s fates) for too long – but when their storylines finally converge after all the build up, the payoff is worth it.

“Rage ripped through her. And just like that, her magic was there. The smoky binds that had dared to confine her – her, in her own damned palace – abruptly burst apart, and Nahri inhaled, suddenly aware of every brick and stone and mote of dust in the building around her. The walls erected by her ancestors, the floors that had run black with their blood.” (Chapter 38, page 565)

Keeping with the theme of familial bonds and betrayals, as well as exploring colonization, genocide, and the racial and ethnic prejudices present in her first book, Chakraborty raises the emotional stakes even more in The Kingdom of Copper to bring out the best and, unfortunately, the worst in her characters. At almost 650 pages, there’s a lot to take in, and it can feel overwhelming at times, but what kept me turning the pages was how invested I was in all of the characters. Nahri, in a refreshing development, is learning how to play the game of politics that is always afoot in Daevabad. We see her start to come into the full potential she has as the Banu Nahida (the title bestowed upon the female healer of the Nahid), while also discovering the true strength of her magical abilities. Ali flounders at times, still showing a lot of the naïveté that Nahri has lost since the first book, but he is endearing and has come into his own in a way that I want to see more of. Dara is the wild card in this book, making the most questionable choices, and yet the emotional turmoil he experiences and his feelings for Nahri keep him from becoming entirely unsympathetic.

Chakraborty ends her second book with what might just be her most noticeable trademark – an agonizing cliffhanger that leaves readers needing the next book in their hands as soon as possible. But with the third and final book, The Empire of Gold, not hitting shelves until 2021, readers will have a long time to wait. My suggestion until then? Pick up The City of Brass if you haven’t already, and then grab The Kingdom of Copper as soon as you finish. The books don’t disappoint.

My rating:

7.5 Suleiman Seals out of 10

-Sara