The first is His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik, which I’m sure almost everyone knows about and has already read, but, what the hell, I’ll mention it here anyway. The premise is: dragons are living and used for battle during the Napoleonic Wars.
I really, really liked this book. I wanted to love it, and I couldn’t put it down … until the last third of the book. It lost me, just a little, because the focus switched to the battles, and not on the characters so much.
Laurence’s voice is just fabulous. He’s uptight, honorable, still makes mistakes and owns up to them, fun to read, and his relationship with Temeraire just as much fun to watch develop. On the other hand, I didn’t run out to grab the next one (although I’ll eventually pick them up, I didn’t HAVE to have them right away.)
I’ve heard that Peter Jackson optioned this for a film, and I will be standing in line for that. A book like this begs to be translated to the screen, and I think it’ll be spectacular there.
(As an aside: this book totally reminded me of Ender’s Game, and I don’t know why. But while I was reading it, I couldn’t stop thinking of Ender’s Game — maybe the training sequences? The he’s-the-guy-no-one-likes-at-first plotline? Dunno. But it did. As another aside: Ender’s Game is one of my all-time favorites. I love love love love love that book.)
(Another aside: Holy Shit! Ender’s Game has over 2,400 reviews at Amazon! And, just because I had to look: Harry Potter, book 1, has over 5,000 reviews. I thought I was pretty cool with, like, 8.)
The second book is behind the cut, and was a DNF for me (for now), but other readers might find the premise as interesting as I did and not have the same problems getting into it:
The second is Bitterwood by James Maxey. I picked it up because of the awesome cover (you can’t really see it in this thumbnail, but there’s a Robin-Hood-looking guy reflected in a dragon’s eye) and a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In the distant futureâ€”year 1070 of the Dragon Age, to be exactâ€”Earth has been commandeered by dragons, who subject their human inferiors to lives of misery and squalor, either as slaves or pets. Human Bant Bitterwood, consumed with thoughts of vengeance against the dragons he believes murdered his family, goes on a dragon-killing spree that makes him a folk hero among the oppressed human populace. When Bitterwood slays the dragons’ crown prince, Bodiel, their king vows to exterminate humankindâ€”the only way he can be certain of victory over Bitterwood. To that end, the king enlists his murderous brother Blasphiel to build a city that will serve as humanity’s abattoir. Maxey’s world is stunningly imaginative, a landscape both familiar and alien, and packed with thoughtful treats for readers. Skillfully examining themes of faith, martyrdom and heroism, Maxey maintains an unflagging believability even while borrowing some of the most generic elements from science fiction and fantasy. The dragons are wonderfully written, as is the tormented hero; it is almost a shame that the story is so self-contained, as many readers will pine for a whole series of Dragon Age titles. (July)
It was a DNF for me, but I think it’s a case of it’s-not-you-it’s-me. I had a hard time getting into it — within a hundred or so pages, there were about 7 – 8 different POV characters, and (partially because we didn’t stay with any one character long enough to get to know them) no one that I could root for — and although Bitterwood sounds really fascinating, there’s only a brief section from him in the opening, and that’s pre-vengeance-mode. I don’t have to relate to characters when I read, but I do have to care if something happens to them (even if that means I really, really want them to die, because I don’t have to *like* them either) — but I really didn’t. Not about the dragon narrators, or the young girl who was a pet of the human-loving magician dragon. The prose was functional, too, and there were dramatic moments with great descriptions and a chase scene — but at the same time, very heavy. I’m not even sure that I can explain that, because it wasn’t overwrought — just nothing within the story or sentences to lift it up. Almost too straightforward, and with little variation in voice according to the POV (and nothing that distinguished dragon thoughts from human). So it ended up not fitting the reading mood I’m in at all, when I really wanted to be grabbed by a narrator’s voice.
But the review is right — the worldbuilding is fantastic and imaginative. It might be that in a year or two I’ll pick it up again and it’ll work for me, but it just didn’t this time.