In His Majesty’s Service is an omnibus edition containing the first three novels in Naomi Novik‘s TEMERAIRE series. (These 3 novels were also released in a Science Fiction Book Club omnibus edition called Temeraire: In the Service of the King.) Aside from these three books, Naomi Novik has written two more novels in the series, Empire of Ivory and Victory of Eagles, with Tongues of Serpents being the working title of the forthcoming sixth book. There’s also a short story entitled “Feast or Famine,” which is available on Naomi Novik‘s website, as well as two “outtakes” or deleted scenes from other books in the series.
The first book in this omnibus edition, His Majesty’s Dragon (the title is an obvious reference to the term His Majesty’s Ship or HMS), is an enjoyable alternate history fantasy in which the Napoleonic Wars are changed by the addition of an air force consisting of domesticated dragons. His Majesty’s Dragon is an enjoyable and tightly written book, well researched and written in (what appears to my layman’s eye) a historically accurate style. I enjoyed the story of Laurence, a naval captain who accidentally captures a rare dragon egg and involuntarily becomes Temeraire’s (the dragon’s) captain and companion.
However, in book 2, Throne of Jade, the story loses much of its tight pace, turning into a loose and sometimes dragging travel narrative. The novel gives a very interesting look at life aboard a large ocean-faring ship as Laurence and Temeraire travel to China, but completely falls apart at the end with an improbable and downright silly ending.
Book 3, Black Powder War, unfortunately combines most of the flaws of the second book with very little of what I enjoyed in the first book. In this novel, Temeraire and Laurence are summoned from the Chinese court to Istanbul. The result is another meandering travel narrative. Most of the last third of Black Powder War consists of long and overly-detailed battle descriptions, some of which I ended up skimming over. Improbably, Naomi Novik comes up with a deus-ex-machina ending that is even sillier than the second book’s. There are some bright points in this novel, but it’s nowhere near as good as the first book.
I enjoyed meeting Temeraire and Laurence, but in retrospect I wish that I’d stopped reading at the end of His Majesty’s Dragon, and I am not planning to read any further books in this series. Still, I would recommend His Majesty’s Dragon to any fantasy fans who have an interest in the Napoleonic era, dragons, or (ideally) both.
Temeraire — (2006-2016) Peter Jackson has “optioned” the Temeraire story. Omnibus editions are available. Publisher: Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors rise to Britain’s defense by taking to the skies… not aboard aircraft but atop the mighty backs of fighting dragons. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Capt. Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future–and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.