Saturday, June 17, 2006

HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON by Naomi Novik


Well, let's get back to the business of books, shall we?

I read a lot--this is probably an obvious point. Last year, for the first time since I was a little girl, I decided to keep track of all the books I read in my Livejournal. I made it up to 142 books read during 2005 (it should be noted that I was disappointed not to have reached a gross); not through any sort of dedicated effort, but just because that's how many I will devour, if I have the time and energy to do so. And I had a lot of time, especially in the first part of the year, which coincided with my last semester of college and much procrastinating on schoolwork as I wrapped up that part of my life. So I read, partially because I love to do so, and partially because it's my own particular form of escapism. Whenever I'm disgruntled, a good book can usually put me in a better mood.

Today, I had the brilliant idea that I would take the train to NYC, so that I could meet up with a group of friends for dinner. I normally take the bus, as that's the most convenient way for me to travel from my home in central NJ, but as I happened to be on the opposite side of the county, the train seemed more convenient to me. This was sadly not the case.

My journey began in Long Branch, which although it's not the nicest area in the world (think mostly poor, populated with a good proportion of illegal immigrants, and not a safe place to be standing alone at 9 pm at night) does have a train station. It's also the NJ setting for Holly Black's great YA novels, TITHE and VALIANT. You know all those places mentioned in the novels? I know where some of them are, and for the record, the home of the Seelie Court makes great doughnuts. The Long Branch train station, apparently, is also where NJ Transit has decided would be a good place to just stop certain trains, and make everyone wait for the next one (for no apparent reason). Regardless to say, getting onto a northbound train was not an easy prospect.

And then, once on the train, we crawled. Slowly. Delicately. At the pace of snails. Up the entire northern half of the NJ coastline.

I fretted; I fidgeted; I frequently checked the time on my cell phone and watched myself grow later and later for dinner. And I read HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON by Naomi Novik because I had nothing else to do, and as stated before, reading puts me in a better mood.

There are two schools of thought on this book. Some love it and some hate it; I have friends who vehemently subscribe to one or the other. It's basically about dragons who fight in the Napoleonic Wars. And it's a very good book. To understand the controversy though, you need to understand that it has flaws. You can't look at it solely from a writer's perspective because it is a first novel and it has its quirks; the writing isn't always the greatest (although it is always decent), and it relies overheavily on semicolons (given my fondness for them, this is the pot calling the kettle black, but it should be noted that most of the usages are period-accurate, except that I strongly disagree about their use in dialogue). There are other flaws, I'm sure, which I could point out if I wanted to critically analyze it. But I don't.

Because what Naomi Novik excels at is telling a ripping good story. Her writing needs to catch up with her, but from a reader's perspective, the novel is utterly engrossing. She has characters that catch the imagination, a plot that keeps on chugging, and a story that kept me badly wanting to find out what happened next. At this moment, the only thing I care about is that I've got the sequel, THRONE OF JADE, sitting next to me on my desk, and it wants to be read. I want to find out whether Laurence hooks up with Jane or Harcourt, and whether Maximus or Temeraire will eventually get to mate with Lily. And I want to see what happens with the rest of the characters that I've come to love. The fact that I'm sitting here at five in the morning typing about romantic dragon entanglements says something about the allure of the book, especially since I stayed up all night to finish it. And that's not a bad thing at all, especially since Naomi Novik has just signed a deal to write three more books in the series. =)

2 comments:

Aliette said...

For the record, I'm usually not keen on dragon stories, but I finished that one in a single sitting. And I loved every minute of it. Sure, it has its flaws, as you point out (I could also get picky about Chinese dragons being fundamentally different, both in aspect and philosophy, from European ones. But I really don't care about that).
The book more than compensates for those niggles.

Jenny Rappaport said...

It definitely does, Aliette. I'm halfway through BLACK POWDER WAR now, and still loving the series. =)