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        :  James Rollins

Date of  First Publication : April 26, 2005  (Hardcover)

Publisher    :  William Morrow


Date of  This Edition’s Publication :  May 2006

This Edition’s Publisher  :  Avon Books

ISBN-13:  978-0-06-076524-8

ISBN-10:  0-06-076524-0

No. of pages :   540


The Story :

The story opens with a crash into the year 1152.  Men of the exiled, legitimate  Pope desperately try to defend a holy relic from falling into the hands of the false pope ensconced in Rome.  They succeed.

Fast forward to the present in Cologne :  cold-blooded terrorists garbed in monk’s robes walk into a Catholic mass after the Eucharistic rites, steal the Church’s relic — the bones of the very Magi who had paid homage to the infant Christ at his birth — and leaves behind an entire congregation, dead from electrocution by Communion wafers.

The sacrilegious carnage and theft forces the Vatican to work alongside the Sigma force, an  elite unit of highly educated and specially trained soldiers for organized crime of this magnitude.  Commander Grayson Pierce , three other agents,  a caribinieri lieutenant Rachel Verona, and the Vatican’s own, Monsignor Vigor Verona, form a team to race against time and danger to solve the mystery of the Dragon Court’s deadly interest in the Magi’s bones.

The bones become the first clue which lead the team through an international hunt for clues to a treasure, far greater than anyone had ever known.  To solve the riddles, they must piece historical, religious and scientific knowledge together to unlock ancient secrets, before their adversaries gain the knowledge and purported power of the prize.

The Review :

Whoa!  What a ride!  Shock value and originality in the first few chapters make a strong start with a novel idea for mass murder:  grand scale killing of a Catholic congregation through electrocution with contaminated communion hosts.  A seemingly improbable event but as a beginning, it does grip you to stay with the book and run along with a series of marvelous historical, religious and techno tidbits which the author insists are facts, in his preface.  Such interesting details like Mithraism (an old Roman military religion that has parallels with Christian rites);  existence of the monoatomic state (m-state) of metals;  liquid body armor being developed by the military;  and the Mandylion (the purported true burial shroud of Christ that predates the Shroud of Turin) to name a few,  are dropped like crumbs on a trail for me, the reader, to eagerly lap up and broaden my knowledge on many esoteric matters,  after the story.

In fact,  the book is chock-full of trivia.  The bulging amount is quite distracting and adds more complexity to an already complicated mystery.  On occasion,  I’d wonder how matters came to be from Points A to C.  My attention probably wandered on some detail at point B.  But then, Rollins’ way of incorporating all these factual details keeps one riveted enough to stay on their reading course.

The book is highly driven like one on speed.  The author loves big bangs and surprises and uses these often;  so expect lots of jarring moments from beginning to end.  The hunt’s conclusion, though, seems both rather outrageous and a tad anti-climactic; but since this is escapism, it might do you well to just ride along.

To Read Or Not To Read?

Packing a lot of action, this book may be a good choice to pass the time. Score another for it if you do like books that inform as well as entertain. This is my first Rollins book and it just whetted my appetite for more. It’s quite a rollicking good read, one of those that holds up its end well against books of its type — hunt for ancient artifact adventure / mystery kind of novel.

Oh, there is a bit of romance involved. A weak injection by the author to…? …add more spice?…humanize the lead characters…?… touch on as much elements as he can?…whatever. Although this may annoy some , it doesn’t detract much from the excitement which this book is about.

In A Nutshell :

Map of Bones is quite the speedy suspense slash thriller slash adventure slash mystery it should be, melding the elements of history, religion, and technology, a genre mix that surely must be a James Rollins’ signature.

My Mark : Very Good