Author :  Naomi Novik

Date of Publication: April 25, 2006

Publisher :  Del Rey Books

ISBN-10: 0345481291

ISBN-13: 978-0345481290

No. of pages :  432


The Story :

China gets wind of where the prized dragon egg, their  lost gift for Napoleon, is.  An  angry Chinese Prince Yongxing and his delegation  arrive in Britain and demand the return of their dragon.

Temeraire is discovered to be a Celestial dragon, the rarest of Chinese breeds.   Venerated like royalty, the Chinese believe that only those of royal blood are worthy companions to these Celestials.  To their utter mortification, they discover their dragon would take no other companion but a common aviator, Capt. Laurence.

Pressured by China with the gloomy spectre of a Chinese alliance with France,  Laurence’s superiors force him and Temeraire to go with the delegation back to China.

Through the perils of a long voyage, Temeraire finally arrives in a country where dragons are treated like humans, with rights to education, property, and remuneration.  Chinese dragons also have a social stratification according to breed and have the chances of gaining wealth or falling into poverty as much as any human.

For Temeraire, his life in China as a Celestial is every dragon’s dream; but, China is not all that ideal after all, for diabolical plans are afoot.

The Review :

Throne of Jade sees much more action. The story takes a on a faster pace than the first book as  Novik throws in a lot more danger for all characters involved.

She injects a lot of humor, too, about 19th century British exposure to the Orient, making her characters have a lot of droll moments coming to terms with unfamiliar things like chopsticks and century eggs.

Novik successfully mimics the dry, genteel British verbal and writing style of the early 19th century which has a tendency to downplay or understate everything, even such incidents as death, danger, etc.  so that the full emotional impact is not felt and comes across as trivialized.  Injury to a crew member, for instance doesn’t seem to be of importance; however, emotional emphasis is given when the principal characters, Temeraire and Capt. Laurence are at stake.

Throne of Jade makes one immediately reach for Black Powder War, the third book of what promises to be an exciting series.

My Mark :  Very Good

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I’ve missed out a lot on YA books last year so I decided to start on a genre that had been my reading preference in highschool — elves, dwarves, genies, dragons, magi— anything that smacks of high fantasy.

This is a series of which I only have four books. As to why I started on a series novel again (I had developed a wariness to unfinished series books), the pull was just there as the books have been staring at me from their shelves for two years now. The author promises nine books, five of which are published. The fifth book, Victory of Eagles has just been released in 2008.

The novels are all set in an alternate history during the Napoleonic wars,  concentrating on the French invasion of England.  In this alternate world, dragons are very much a part of life, indispensable in the military for they are the century’s air force along with their  human “pilots” or aviators.

What is central to this series is Novik’s world of dragons which she goes into detail, expounding on the different breeds, their weight, class, physical and mental abilities, preferences, etc.  Novik’s dragons are, like humans, varied in breed, intelligence, and ability.  The more intelligent ones have highly developed linguistic and analytical capacities.    She also imbues them with very human emotions so that we get to know them and identify with her dragon characters on a  personal level.   Her dragons are what caught my interest and made me stick to her series.

So, I’m settling down to review the series which Peter Jackson (best known as director of Lord of the Rings) is planning to do a miniseries on.

His Majesty’s Dragon (Book 1)

Author :  Naomi Novik

Date of Publication :  2006

Publisher :  Del Rey Books

No. of Pages : 384

ISBN-10: 0345481283

ISBN-13 : 978-0-345-48128-3

The Story :

The English make an immense discovery of a Chinese dragon egg aboard a French ship they had taken in battle. As the shell is hardening and land far away, English Captain James Laurence, has no choice but to await the hatching and be ready for the loss of any crew member the hatchling would take to.  As soon as the little dragon allows a harness to be donned by someone,  it is an inviolable law that the chosen person be duty-bound to leave his naval career, ambitions, and plans of future wife and family for a life of an aviator, a career demanding a lifelong bond with his dragon.

The egg hatches and the first person the baby dragon takes to is Captain Laurence.   With a deeply imbued sense of duty to country, Laurence bravely accepts the choice, names the dragon Temeraire and divests himself of naval rank and accoutrements to prepare himself  for aviator life.

As Captain Laurence begins his association with Temeraire, both start a deep love that would strengthen through their training and battles as each discovers himself and the other.

The Review :

Novik charmingly evokes the feel of the Napoleonic era with her characters’ genteel prudish language, cultural notions, dress and code of conduct of that bygone era.

Book One displays how interesting and endearing Novik’s dragons are so that readers get excited about reading Book Two  : The Throne of Jade.  While intimidating, her dragons are lovable, intelligent and excellent companions.  You’d wish they really existed.  As an added bonus, her dragons and their aviators form filial-like bonds that add to the escapist’s pleasure of identifying with the aviator.

His Majesty’s Dragon is a good first book that entices one to immerse in the series.  Novik’s world is so elegantly well-detailed that I really don’t mind spending my time immersed in it.

My Mark :  Very Good

Author :  Allan Folsom

Date of Publication :  May 1999  (mass paperback)

Publisher :  Warner Books

ISBN-10: 0446604534

No. of pages :  667

The Story :

A Cardinal’s confession seals Father Daniel Addison’s fate as a VIP target of a conspiracy rooted in the highest echelons of the Vatican.  Before he disappears, he leaves a desperate message for his brother, Harry.  The cardinal vicar of Rome is suddenly assassinated and Father Daniel is blamed. Soon after, a bus explodes with Father Daniel onboard.

Harry Addision flies to Italy to claim his brother’s body, only to discover that his brother is alive but missing and himself, framed for the murder of an Italian policeman.  An American on the run in a foreign country, Harry relies on his wits and luck while on the trail of his brother, to unravel the horrific conspiracy he had unwittingly become the target of.

The Review :

Folsom tries to a spin a thriller of a grandiose scale and fails miserably.  The basis of his conspiracy encompasses elements too immense in scale and too opposite (i.e. China, the Vatican) to be woven together believably.  Well, at least by his attempts in this book.  The plot to get the Vatican to have a strong religious hold in China is just way too preposterous.

Even the characters behave unrealistically, by whom I mean:  the evil Cardinal who believes he is the reincarnation of Alexander the Great (Catholics do not believe in reincarnation);  a young nun who just has the temerity to face a man in a sheer nightgown; a very sick priest still able to fight from a wheelchair.  Moreover, the sex scenes seem forced into the story.  The story could actually do without them.

On the whole, though, Day of Confession isn’t a very bad read, if you like books equivalent to B movies.  As a thriller, it still fast-paced enough;  it’s just some stuff are hard to swallow.

In A Nutshell :

This is a book to skip if you have other options in line.  Day of Confession feels like a contrived piece by an author who needed to come up with something for a deadline.

If you were to look into other reviews, it seems people picked this up on the merit of Folsom’s earlier work, Day After Tomorrow, which everyone agrees was a smashing good thriller.  I’ve read Machiavelli Covenant last year (my review here) and it was rather enjoyable.  Perhaps, Day of Confession just happened to be this writer’s dud.

My Mark  :  Fair

Author: William Napier
Release Date: 2007
ISBN : 978-0-7528-8103-4
Pages : 306

It’s the early 5th century A.D. and the Roman Empire’s former powers are waning. Attila, reviled by the Romans and exiled by his own people for thirty years, returns to his tribe to seize the throne. His ruthless ambitions and burning vengeance has birthed an all-consuming zeal in him of conquering two vast empires, the conquests of which were promised to him in prophecy. Using his brilliant intellect and forcefully magnetic personality, he succeeds in uniting warring and disinterested factions of the Huns to move with him on two common goals : the conquest of the Roman and Chinese empires.

This is Book Two of a trilogy. Attila here is not drawn as some thoughtless homicidal bully, lording over a people by fear and cruelty alone.  He is, rather,  an enigmatic leader given the intellectual brilliance of a genius, the aural magnetism of a superstar, and the iron convictions of a zealot. Yes, he is shameless, unprincipled, and cunning; yet, he can be compassionate if perceived through a Hun’s skewed sense of justice.

My enjoyment of this book has a lot do with the author’s formal writing style. Far from being stiff and dispassionately bland, the author’s “Oxfordian English” lends to a writing that is beautifully dignified, elegant and precise, and rich with descriptive details. It is a rare talent who can think of likening a living saint’s lice to “the pearls of God” and the sizzles of spat-on fire to the fire’s cowering under the spitter’s bitterness. At rare times, though, the author tends to go a tad overboard with his descriptions; but they do bring vividness to many things.

Christopher Hart’s (William Napier is his pen name) preference of endowing his characters with some sophistry is also very much a part of his creative style.

To illustrate : Attila, true to his egotistical and megalomaniacal self, addresses his warriors :

On Morals:

“Some men worship right and wrong, or make good and evil their gods and their goals,” he said. “ I believe in life and death. The question is not “Is it right?” but “Does it make me feel more alive?” This is at the heart of everything!…Even the wheyfaced moralists in their pulpits…busy censuring every man around them, do so because it makes them feel more alive. It augments their power over others. And so the herdlike many allow them to do so and believe in them.…You are your own arbiter and none may judge your deeds but you yourself…Have you lived? That is the deathbed question. That is the only question. Had you the courage to be yourself, to fulfil your desires?”

On Vengeance:

“Vengeance is wrong ,” say the Christians…“Forgive?” he cried, his voice suddenly harsh. “ What is that to the sweet joy of vengeance? There is life! To wreak bone-crushing vengeance on one’s own ancient enemies is the sweetest, most life-giving joy. It fills you with sweet laughter, it bathes all the world in a golden light, it makes you glad to be alive. Everything we do should make us glad to be alive, make us rejoice in the life that is given us. Nor should you be anxious that your vengeance and your triumph is the ruined one’s defeat. Behold I give you a mystery. It is his triumph, too…the fulfillment of his destiny, to be crushed by a superior, god-ordained might that he could no more oppose…All men must die…He can do nothing to save himself from this punishment…so he goes to his destruction unflinching, a hero shouting defiance into the face of the storm until the end, until he is cut down like a flower by the scythe, to be sung and hymned evermore for his broken nobility. Nothing so noble as broken nobility.”

These may or may not be the author’s personal convictions but they do set a reader’s cogwheels whirring up there.

Just a teeny weeny gripe, though, with his copy editor : I swear Attila’s eyes were described as “leonine” three times – pp. 35, 38, and another page I can’t locate.

For historical readers who usually like reading books anchored in factual details, I can render no judgment on the historical merits of this novel. Being unversed in the real facts behind Attila, I can not discern where the author kept to historical truths and where he deviated to serve his fictional purposes.

On the whole, this book has been an enjoyable find. Although I made the mistake of picking this up without bothering to check if this was part of a series, it’s my good luck that this “middle child” is quite independent of its elder. Now the first and last books are a must-read for me so I can complete my reading journey in this wonderful saga.

My Mark : Outstanding