Holiday Leftovers: His Majesty's Dragon, The Ruby in the Smoke, By the Mountain Bound

Due to constraints on time and inspiration, Faithful Readers (all 6 of you),  in place of a long article on one book, here are some brief thoughts on other books I've read recently, that don't quite have enough to get their own article.  Plus, my camera is broken.

His Majesty's Dragon
Naomi Novik, 2006

Sometimes I see a book that seems to say, "I was written just for you!"  This is one of those books. 

In sketchiest outline, the plot is a little bit like Eragon, (person imprints on dragon, life changes), if Eragon were any good.  And set in the Napoleonic Wars.  And starred a Naval captain.  The author is, like me, a great fan of both JRR Tolkien and Patrick O'Brian, and it comes through in the writing.

The protagonist, Captain Laurence, is a proud, hot-tempered man who clings to duty and responsibility when his life is turned upside-down.  His unexpected bond with Temeraire, a rare Chinese Dragon captured from a French ship, means that he must be transferred from the Navy to the more free-and-easy Aviator Corps.  Most of the book is about their transition: Laurence letting go of some of his assumptions, while refusing to budge on his principles, and the influence of Temeraire's growing practicality, curiosity and intelligence on both his handler and the other dragons.  Nothing too mind-blowing so far, but entertaining and well-written.

Now the super-cool part: Novik has taken ideas I've seen before and blended them in an awesome new way.  The handler has a special bond with the dragon, but in her world, to fight from dragonback on a large breed looks less like a knight on their noble steed, and more like a cross between the upper rigging of a ship and a heavily crewed biplane.  Someone is helping the dragon see the shape of the battle and understand what is best to do next, some people are shooting rifles at the closest enemy, some dropping bombs, some packing a bandage around an injury, one watching for signals, all strapped to the same dragon.  I love team-style warfare, whether ships, starships or dragons, and I think it's brilliant.

4 Stars - A Really Good Book

The Ruby in the Smoke
Philip Pullman, 1985

This book, on the other hand, looked as if it were written for me, but was disappointing.  16-year-old Sally Lockhart is investigating the murder of her father in Victorian London, which sounds thrilling, but...isn't.  And yes, it's YA, but I've read plenty of good YA.

Aspects of this book were good, but it never felt all that exciting, even when characters' lives were in danger.  Sally's proficiency with math and business and no-nonsense style is fun, but not groundbreaking, the villain is underwhelming, and she sadly gets very little accomplished on her own as far as solving the mystery.  It was short, and not compelling, but may be okay as an intro to the time period for much younger readers.

3 Stars - A Good Book

By The Mountain Bound
Elizabeth Bear, 2009

This book was just... odd.  It's a prequel to a book I haven't read, (which apparently stars a character I really wanted to like, but just couldn't), it's a weird spin-off on Norse Mythology, and it kinda reads like a too-dramatic anime/manga might.  In other words, it was too long (despite being short), with enough endless angst and dragging of emotional feet to cause any tension to deflate into boredom.

It has the dubious distinction of containing the "safest" homosexual sex scene I've read, because apparently demi-gods' sexual energy is all magic and shiny and bound up in kissing, in which you transfer soul-stuff or something.  Uh...yeah.

It reminded me a little of Mists of Avalon, mostly for it's "inventive" spelling.  I had to check online to get reassurance that 'waelcyrge' = 'valkyrie'.  Not that it seems to matter.  There were a bunch of depressed immortals spatting/sparring/loving each other, possibly after the end of the world, but there are still human settlements, and they sort of protect them, or something, and then this super powerful chick arrives, and everybody's all freaked out, but it's kinda dumb, and then there's a really boring battle, and everyone dies.  Now you don't have to read it.  You're welcome.

2 Stars - An Okay Book


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