Author :  Naomi Novik

Date of Publication : May 30, 2006

Publisher :  Del Rey

ISBN-10: 0345481305

ISBN-13: 978-0345481306

No. of pages : 400

The Story :

China’s Emperor allows William Laurence and Temeraire to go back to England.  As they were about to do so, an urgent missive instructs them in no uncertain terms to bring back three dragon eggs from the Ottoman Empire or suffer the consequences.  Laurence, Temeraire and his crew embark on a dangerous crossing across desert and mountains.

On the way, they meet feral dragons which they end up befriending.  Temeraire, having experienced the more exalted treatment of dragons in China, speak to the ferals about a better way of life — better accomodations, food, etc.  His Chinese exposure, his witness of the slave trade, and his voracious reading have also made him  question the order of dragon treatment  in England where he perceives his kind to have limited choices and freedoms.  Temeraire is growing a sense of social justice for dragons in general and is determined to spearhead changes for the dragons’ lot, starting with the English Parliament.

With the uncontrollable,  undeducated ferals breaching etiquette, Laurence and his company make a bad start with relations at the Turkish border.  The mission becomes more and more disastrous at the Turks’ refusal to hand over the paid eggs and at the machinations of an albino dragon, Lien, who had become Temeraire and Laurence’s vengeful enemy in China.

The situation forces Laurence’s party to take drastic measures and to flee to the Prussian side where they fight as allies against the vast, encroaching army of Napoleon.

Author :  Naomi Novik     

Date of Publication :  September 25, 2007

Publisher :  Del Rey

ISBN-10: 0345496876

ISBN-13: 978-0345496874

No. of Pages :  416

The Story :

Laurence and Temeraire finally fly home to England only to find a new threat—a plague of the common cold, fatal to dragons with no known cure.  With the threat of decimation hanging upon England’s aerial corps and the proximity of Bonaparte’s armies,  Laurence,  Temeraire and a bedraggled section of the aerial corps journey to Africa to find a cure.

In their desperate search, they are forced to discover a secret kingdom deep within the continent’s interior protected by African dragons who had forged a unique bond with its people.  These Africans have engaged in their own war against the colonial slave trade.

Danger harasses them throughout the tale and culminates with Laurence having to make a difficult life-changing decision.

The Review :

What keeps one riveted on these books?  It is first and foremost, its dragons.  They are the crux of the series; hence, Novik takes great pains in constructing her dragon world,  building on  different breeds and personalities, dacronian habits, likes and dislikes, their sexuality, intellectual capacities, etc.   She then melds her draconian world to a page in history, selecting the Napoleonic War. Taking care to stick well to factual historical events, she allows us to escape to an alternate reality.

To keep us further immersed,  Novik continues to develop her principal characters, Laurence and Temeraire, albeit almost exclusively which simplifies the story  in a way that the reader is focused on these two characters.  One begins to know them closely  so much so that he is caught in their intimate bond and the reby, the story’s spell.

As she develops Laurence and Temeraire,  she makes them gradually aware of life’s truths, shattering notions and shedding innocence.  From a hatchling to a young adult dragon, Temeraire goes through gradual knowledge of life’s complexities, injustice and  double-sidedness throughout the series.  He increasingly develops a sense of social justice.  With Temeraire’s progressing questions and some uncontrollable events,  Laurence , too, is forced to shift his paradigms to break  previous staunch beliefs especially in the area of England’s superiority and political system.

So far each book, after the first, satisfyingly segues into action-packed continuations, the author cleverly introducing  new, interesting dragon and human characters, pumping new life with new events and making one want to read more and more.

With all these, Novik is certainly going down the right path toward creating a marvelously enjoyable series.  I have enjoyed them, reading much well into the night , caught up in finding out what’s next.  I am certainly out to get the fifth book, Victory of Eagles, the latest published to date .

So far, so very good!  Not to mention that from premiering only in 2006, the books have come in pretty rapidly compared to the usual plodding rate of releases in most series writing.  This year, Tongues of Serpents is scheduled to be released on the thirteenth of July (as per the official website’s announcement on http://www.temeraire.org/).  

My Mark : Outstanding!  — Fantastically Entertaining

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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

The small print and the number of pages in this novel promises ample time in your reading chair.  So be sure to have lots of time to kill to thoroughly enjoy this one.

Author :  Susanna Clarke

Published Date : August 1, 2006

Publisher: Tor Books

ISBN-10: 0765356155

ISBN-13: 978-0765356154

Pages :   1,024

Synopsis :

Susanna Clarke writes of an alternate England, a place rich in history of magic and folklore.

It is the beginning of the 19th century in England, a time when magic has been relegated to pages of esoteric books,  studied by only certain gentlemen with a passion for magical theory.  It has been centuries since magicians had wielded any real power or communed with fairy folk so that magic in England has been presumed lost forever or simply non-existent.

At the height of the Napoleonic war,  Mr. Norrell, a reclusive pedantic magician, one of the only practical or practicing magicians in England, suddenly comes out of his solitary society with the goal of restoring magic in England, in his own terms.  So he applies to help the government combat Napoleon Buonaparte.  His magical talents immediately catapult him to celebrity status.  Soon however, a younger and more adventurous magician,  sort of a more freewheeling one in the person of Jonathan Strange, emerges to aid Mr. Norrell in the war.  Owing to the Mr. Norrell’s age and scholarship (he owns almost all the books of magic that can be had), Strange becomes his pupil.  Together, they become England’s most celebrated and only recognized magicians.

Their contradictory personalities and philosophies, however, guarantee a building scenario toward a clash which inevitably brings about Strange’s estrangement from his former mentor.  This division between England’s two foremost magicians lead to a cataclysmic strife in fulfillment of a prophecy for both England and the world of the fairy.

The Review:

This book, a gift from my aunt, had been sitting in my shelf for more than a year now.  Its simple cover and ordinary title just didn’t cry out to be read so that the book was often bypassed in favor of those with more interesting colors and come-ons.

Little did I know…these nondescript book covers hold pages of a marvelous literary gem that outshines many in my library.  This book is a rare delight, a captivating original for which I can find no equal.

The New York Post says of this work :  “…think Harry Potter sprinkled with the dust of Tolkien and Alasdair Gray…”    I disagree.  It is a far cry from J.K. Rowling’s and Tolkien’s work.  This book stands on its own merits and can perhaps have that exceptional position of having no other work in its genre that can be compared to it.

The book is a blend of history and fantasy, the most part being that of fantasy.  However, the reader is never sure where fiction ends and fact begins (are there even any facts?) when the author starts footnoting a word, a title, or a group of  sentences.  The footnotes, fictitious or otherwise, often refer to dated publications.  There are way over a hundred of these footnotes which pepper the entire book.  The footnotes themselves are interesting pieces of asides, ranging as short as as a one-liner to as long as a little story in itself, spanning two pages.  Susanna Clarke  used meticulous footnoting as a brilliant strategy to lend her book a conviction of credibility.

The language of writing is reminiscent of those of the nineteenth century.  Take a peek into a Jane Austen novel and you’ll know what I mean.  The style is formal and elegant yet wonderfully precise so that it showcases the author’s sharp dry wit and her command of vivid description.

“The door opened to reveal a tall, broad fellow of thirty or forty.  His face was round, white, pockmarked and bedabbled with sweat like a Chesire cheese.  All in all he bore a striking resemblance to the man in the moon who is reputed to be made of cheese.  He had shaved himself with no very high degree of skill and here and there on his white face two or three coarse black hairs appeared–rather as if a family of flies had drowned in the milk before the cheese was made and their legs were poking out of it…”

One can be enraptured by this old-fashioned intelligent writing style.  As one so enamored, I felt like I were in a feather cloud of words with all these pretty phrases falling delicately about me.   Susanna Clarke writes very consistently in this manner and even uses archaic spelling in keeping with her language.   For example, she uses “chuse” for choose, “shew” for show, “scissars” for scissors.

This is Susanna Clarke’s debut novel and it speaks for the author’s superb writing talent.  Her deadpan humor can fairly surprise a chuckle from you while her orchestrated sudden mood turns can illicit that gasp of incredulity.  At times, the narrative may sound indifferent and haughty and then dark and sinister in an instant.  How Clarke plays with her words is a marvel to witness;  and with this, she draws her characters and events so well as to leave one wanting more despite the book’s thousand pages.

To Read Or Not To Read?:

All this is not to say, however, that this book is for everyone.  The writing language may not appeal to many, the thousand or so pages may prove to be daunting,  and the footnoting may leave a tedious aftertaste with some readers.    To enjoy it, one must not mind reading a very long fantastical story written in old-fashioned English.  Rather, the reader must savor its literary style  and allow himself to be transported into its world to really appreciate this book.   For those who don’t mind these caveats,  the joy of immersing in a work of quality and originality will be reward enough.

In A Nutshell:

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell deserves the heaps of glowing reviews,  and its Hugo and World Fantasy awards.  It is a phenomenal masterpiece  which seamlessly embodies social comedy, fantasy, history, Gothic horror, and a teeny tiny sprinkling of poignant romance.  A wonderful, wonderful book best enjoyed when savored, this  novel of high fantasy has surely earned an honored place in my shelf.

My Mark :  Excellent; Superior