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[Reading Group] March 2014: His Majesty's Dragon Discussion

Discussion in 'Novels & Stories' started by Philip Overby, Feb 22, 2014.

  1. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

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    I find major faults with the worldbuilding, especially the inconsistency of logic. A dragon, a free thinking, highly intelligent being is eager to be subjected by humans. I'm sorry, such a relationship needs considerable worldbuilding to justify its existence. As soon as I saw how powerful a dragon can be, it unraveled the timeline of our world. What is presented wouldn't be with dragons in the picture.

    Novik combined airplanes and ships, gave it flesh, and free will. Bam, dragons. I do like the potential of combat, but she didn't invest enough into the battles to catch my attention.

    There were a few moments where I chuckled at the awkwardness of it all. Besides that, I felt slightly sickened. Like I ate too much chocolate cake and tried to wash it away with a chocolate milk shake.

    It wasn't odd until I realized Temereraire didn't feel a bit awkward by the whole ordeal. Scenes such as this make me wonder if Novik truly thought out each character. Laurence had the decency to be embarrassed, but Temereraire seemed eager for more. Had this been a cat or dog, I could understand. But this is a highly intelligent, self aware being. That made the scene (in the words of Jimmy Fallon) "Ew!"
     
  2. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    I've stopped reading this one. It was okay but I have no daily desire to see what happens next. I kept telling myself if pick it up again, but I'd be forcing myself.
     
  3. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I've thought about not finishing it as well, but I do that too much as it is. I plan to finish it even if I don't love it because I want to learn what other people have liked about it so I can understand different tastes in books and writing style more. I thought Prince of Thorns would be pretty divisive, but this one seems to be so a bit more.

    I've learned over the years that even though some people may not like a book, that doesn't necessarily mean it's bad, it just means some people get different things from it. Even books I love, I have some criticisms. I feel kind of in the middle about this one so far, but I still like the idea of it so I'm going to continue along. It may be after March by the time I finish it, but I'll finish it nonetheless.
     
  4. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    It is a bit odd how divisive this one is, given how popular it is among general fantasy readers. Wonder what the demographics are of this website vs. the general audience? But I still like it, though I do have the benefit of knowing all future worldbuilding (the question of 'why do dragons serve humans?' is answered at some point, not sure if it's in this book though).
     
  5. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    The only thing that I can attest to is being used to novels with a bit more action. Not to say I read only fantasy with tons of battles in them, but I guess for a book about a war, I expected there to be more battles. I believe Ankari mentioned that the battles feel like afterthoughts, and that's all I'm getting so far. They're referred to, but not seen. I've just reached Chapter 6 and there hasn't been a battle yet. It's mostly about Laurence adjusting to being in the Corps and his relationship with Temeraire. If I'm being honest, I can't really recall the names of any people in the book besides Dayes and Granby, and that's only because he had "run-ins" with them.

    In any case, I feel like things have been sufficiently built up now, so I'm expecting some kind of major conflict to happen soon.

    Hopefully, I can start in on the 3rd block by this weekend and maybe finish up the book by the time the month is out if I speed up a bit more and don't read anything else.
     
  6. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

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    I've actually finished the book now, and I will say I am rather disappointed in the lack of battles. Maybe it's just me, but when I decide to read a book entirely based around the concept of dragons in the Napoleonic Wars, I expect a little more than two battle scenes.
     
  7. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Dang, there's only two? Well...

    That's a good topic to bring up.

    What do you think about a book about a war that only has two battles? Is this because the writer is trying to get a different perspective on war or is it to focus more on the interpersonal relationships?
     
  8. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    I think it's because she's sticking to a fairly historical interpretation (aside from the dragons) of the Napoleonic Wars, and aside from 1796, which was before Britain joined the war, battles were sort of... few and far between. As they often were at the time. But between the beginning of the novel (1804?) and the end, there are only two battles that occur in the historical Napoleonic Wars. Within a day of each other, in fact.

    Which could be a fault of her choice of era, but I empathize with it. I've written rigidly historical (aside from werewolves, in my case) fantasy where I had to work around the dates as they were to tell the story. It can be limiting, but I find it more satisfying than just entirely ignoring the history.
     
  9. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Interesting. I didn't take that into consideration. I do think these kind of books must be really awesome for history buffs. I love history, mind you, but I guess I expected more liberties to be taken with the world since there are dragons and all that. Also, maybe I'm not far enough, but it does seem kind of strange that there dragons in the world and not any other mythical creatures. Actually, maybe it isn't that strange, I guess I just kind of expect it in some way. Maybe if I think about it more, I'll find this kind of approach more interesting.

    Perhaps this is one of those books that has a certain level of expectation attached to it. People see the words "Napoleonic Wars" and "dragons" and they say, "Oh, that sounds intriguing." I admit, that's what I did. While I certainly don't hate the book, it wouldn't be the kind of book I'd normally read. I guess that's why I wanted to give it a shot, since I read a lot of dark fantasy for the most part. This is probably the lightest book I've ever read besides The Hobbit, but I even find it darker than this.
     
  10. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    It wouldn't bother me if there were no battles in it, so long as the book was otherwise interesting to me. I don't need that kind of action to enjoy a work.
     
  11. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I don't need constant action either, but it seems kind of weird to have a book about a war that follows around people in the military and there aren't many battles. Ophiucha's point makes sense, but it's no less disappointing for some who expected a bit more.

    Otherwise, I'm not finding much to hang my hat on other than the relationship between Laurence and Temeraire. One part I just read had a bit of jealousy crop up when Laurence tends to another dragon. Ankari's point about the relationship being "too much" is pretty apt. The only interesting parts tend to be between the two of them, but I still find myself having a hard time letting it sink in.
     
  12. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Still chugging along here. Sorry I haven't been able to keep up with everyone (this will be different for April since I've already started reading that book). I'm on Chapter 6 now, a little less than halfway finished. I do like how some of Laurence's doting ways are causing other dragons to want special treatment. I thought that was a nice touch. However, I'm still not really sure what is exactly happening at the moment. Are they waiting for a battle? In any case, I get that this book has conflict and such, but the tension is very low. Maybe it picks up here soon?

    Overall, I'm liking some of the interactions more and more now that some characters are getting introduced, but I'm having a hard time pinpointing what Laurence's goals are at this point.

    Anyway, not sure who's dropped out at this point, but would love to hear any more thoughts as we wrap up the book next week.

    I should be engaging a lot more in April as I'm digging the book we have planned so far: Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner.
     
  13. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Well, it's officially the last week of discussion. Feel free to give your final thoughts on the book (if you haven't already).
     
  14. SM-Dreamer

    SM-Dreamer Troubadour

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    Not sure I'm going to finish the book. Got sick a couple weeks ago, then played catch up on homework and overtime at work to make up for it and I honestly didn't miss the book. I don't feel any... call to pick it up again, other than to try and discuss it here. I'm thinking that's not a good thing for a book?
     
  15. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I'm in the same boat. I want to finish it, but it's not going to happen this month. Maybe I'll pick it up again later down the line, but I already have too many books I'm really interested in reading.

    This poses an interesting question not related to the actual book, but just books in general.

    Do you ever feel weird if you don't finish a book? Or are you perfectly fine with putting a book down and never reading it again?

    In any case, I'm enjoying our April read so far. Not the kind of book I'd read typically, but for once that's a good thing.
     
  16. ACSmyth

    ACSmyth Minstrel

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    I don't like putting a book aside, although I'm doing it more these days. Not that books are getting worse, just that I have less time to read than I used to, so I want to read books I want to be reading. That's another reason why I'm reading very little literary stuff these days; when it came to a time spent:enjoyment ratio, literary fiction wasn't giving me the payback that genre fiction was.

    I had no problem reading this one. In fact, I enjoyed it and will probably continue the series at some point. It fell a good way short of a 5*, but it was a 4* with caveats.

    PoT, on the other hand, was a real struggle for me. If I'd not been reading it for a book club, I'd almost certainly have given up. It wasn't too dark or anything; I just found it really dull, and I can't even put my finger on why. The only thing I'm coming up with is that I'm someone who does need to build that emotional connection with at least one character. It can be a side character--Perrin Aybara, and to a lesser extent, Mat Cauthon made me slog through The Wheel of Time--but any and all of the characters in PoT could have met horrible deaths and I really wouldn't have cared much.

    I'm on the verge of setting a book aside right now, actually, although I'll probably go back and try again in case I'm just not in the right frame of mind for it. I normally give books a second chance before discarding them for good.
     
    Ophiucha likes this.
  17. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    This is an interesting point since I think a lot of us were divided on Prince of Thorns the same way were are on His Majesty's Dragon. Your point about caring about characters is a good one. Is that always necessary for all readers? I'm not sure it is.

    We talked about having an emotional connection in some way. For me, I had little to no emotional connection to Jorg or his plight. But his overall story was more interesting to me because it involved a simple motivator: revenge. Plus, I just found the writing style and world a lot more intriguing for me.

    His Majesty's Dragon on the other hand feels like it's trying too hard for me. It may be easier for me to gain some sort of emotional attachment, but I could never get there because it felt too perfect and sweet. Maybe that's the backlash of reading "gritty" fiction, but I don't think that's the case. I'm a huge fan of the movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, I get emotional watching A Christmas Story, and when one event (spoiler) happened in The Green Mile, I actually felt really upset. This doesn't mean I lack emotion when reading, it's just some writers pull the emotion out slowly throughout the course of the story. Some stories tug on my heart-strings, while others don't.

    Some people said they quit this one or didn't like it because of the actual writing. I guess if I thought about it more, that might be an issue I have. But the overall issue I had the most was little to no conflict with any sort of consequences. I need that in stories. If I don't feel a relationship is ever in danger or everything is just working out too neatly, I can't stick with it.

    There is a slight conflict with Laurence's father that kind of felt like an afterthought to me. There was Laurence's issues with the way others were treating their dragons that rang a bit truer. But I guess the love-fest between Laurence and Temeraire just became too much. The only time Temeraire seemed in danger of getting turned over to someone else (Dayes I think his name was), it was over in a couple of pages.

    I'll probably do the same (give it another chance) at some point. I just get sick of putting aside so many books, especially when I have high hopes for them. For this group, I know of three people (including myself) who didn't finish it. I think the only reason they were trying to finish it was due to it being part of the reading group.

    So, yes, there are parts of this book I like a lot (anything to do with dragons, honestly), and maybe the later books have a lot more going on. This felt like too slow of a burn for me to get fully invested in. I liked Laurence and Temeraire at first, but it started to become...I don't even know what to call it. I'd like to give it a go at a later date when I have less going on and more patience, but this one's going to have to go in the "On Hold" pile as much as I tried to get into it. Perhaps I'm not the target audience, who knows? :)
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2014
  18. ACSmyth

    ACSmyth Minstrel

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    The writing style didn't bother me at all. At least, I didn't really notice it, so that comes to the same thing.

    The thing that I'm wondering is whether in fantasy we've got so used to the "epicness" that smaller odds are harder to accept. I actually quite enjoyed that the stakes were fairly low in this one. Yes, there was the France vs England thing, but it was really a fish out of water story. It was Laurence being taken from his safe, familiar environment, and being put into a situation where the other people around him had pretty much grown up in this other ethos. If that remains the driver for the rest of the series it will get old very quickly, so I'm hoping we see some raising of the stakes, but I was OK with it for starters. When I got to the half-way point and the stakes weren't multiplying, I relaxed into it, accepting that it was a low-stakes story, and that that was all right.

    So much of fantasy is saving the world, cities falling, armies battling, people being slaughtered by the thousand, that I actually found a more domestic, narrow scope quite a palate cleanser. And yes, it maybe is a different corner of the market.

    I'm thinking of things like romance, where the stakes are whether person A and person B will get together. There is a huge market for books like that. I personally find them repetitive, but then that's often levelled at fantasy, too. (Not another "the Dark Lord is going to take over the world story") So this in a way is a (b)romance. Will Laurence and Temeraire be allowed to continue as a unit, what pressures will they come under to have the relationship dissolved, and how will other external relationships impact on it?
     
  19. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I'm actually shifting more towards personal stories myself. I'm not concerned with stories being epic, although I like those kind of stories now and again. I'm reading Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner now for our April read, and it's a pretty low stakes story based in one city with a small cast of characters. From what I understand, there is no global conflict or thousands of people getting massacred or anything like that. I really like it so far. So I don't think my problem with His Majesty's Dragon is that it's low stake. It's just that these specific low stakes aren't very compelling to me. It may have to do with execution or something else, but I guess sometimes a book clicks with you and other times it doesn't.

    Swordspoint (although I may be missing something?) basically involves a city where you can hire swordsman to fight for you. They follow you around and take care of your "lightweights" so to speak. This idea was intriguing to me from the get go. The idea of dragons involved in the Napoleonic War felt the same to me. That's why I both nominated and voted for this book. However, something didn't click early on and I held out hope that I'd get over it and that I could deal with it.

    So I'd probably say I'm part of a camp of readers (and writers perhaps) that is slowly shifting away from epic stories to some extent. I still want to read them, but I'm not dead set on reading something with huge stakes, epic battles, etc. However, if I think I'm going to be reading a story about war, my expectations are set differently I suppose.
     
  20. ACSmyth

    ACSmyth Minstrel

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    Hmmm. You can have a story where there's a wartime setting without it explicitly being "about" war, though. Casablanca springs to mind here.

    I wasn't going to read Swordspoint, since it's not available for Kindle here (UK). I'm thinking maybe I should snag a dead tree copy, though, just to see if we get a hat-trick of books we disagree about LOL.
     
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