Saturday, January 28, 2006

There is a novel by Diana Wynne Jones

(all right, this really isn't the main point, but I'm going to link to it anyway because it's great, it's The Magicians of Caprona) in which two children are lured away by a witch whose spells in this case are cast in the form of the most alluring story-books imaginable; the protagonist reads his in a daze (it's one of those perfect books about, you know, a child just like you who is somehow having exciting magical adventures and saving the world) without realizing he's in the grip of an evil spell, it's a very vividly done scene & of course encapsulates the novel-reading experience in general. On Thursday afternoon I was consumed by a book in just this way, it was quite extraordinary and I highly recommend that you read it as soon as it is officially published (not till the end of March; but that's not to stop you from preordering at Amazon if you have any affinity for this kind of book).

Even when I very first heard about this one I could tell it was EXACTLY my kind of thing. Then I read Justine Larbalestier's post at the beginning of the month and started going totally crazy. I HAD TO HAVE THIS BOOK. AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. But it wasn't being published till MARCH.

So I e-mailed The Grand Dizzy with a plea that was basically along the lines of "books like this are like CRACK as far as I am concerned, will you PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE send it to me AT ONCE and sorry for being so importunate but I can't help myself" and he obliged me in the kindest possible manner.

Usually I have no self-control about light reading but really this past week and a half I have been absolutely steeped in Johnson & Boswell and with many thousands of pages to read for work I had to resist its lure & sensible mind for once triumphed over yearning matter. It was a small paperback that I could see was perfectly suited to being train reading on my way to New Haven for the conference, that was the thing, and then it would also be my reward for having worked round the clock on those eighteenth-century guys. (Who I love. But it's not the same thing.)

And then it was Thursday & a sunny afternoon & I was high on satisfying-work-accomplishment-and-lack-of-sleep-and-being-on-my-way-out-of-town & the book was everything I expected and more. Truly, truly delightful. If you like fantasy or historical fiction at all, you must read it! But actually if you just want to read an excellent piece of popular fiction get hold of it anyway and see what you think, even if you more usually read crime novels or whatever.

Why is it taking me so long to get to the point? (I think I am working myself up into the same state of frenzied & agonized yearning that I was in when I actually got to it. Deferred gratification, intense release.)

The book: His Majesty's Dragon, first volume in the Temeraire trilogy by Naomi Novik (who happens to be married to Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime). Oh, it is so good! It can be described most simply as Anne McCaffrey meets Patrick O'Brian--the Napoleonic Wars with dragons. (Like the old Reese's commercials: your chocolate, my peanut-butter.) And there's a bit of WWI flying-ace feel because of the aerial battles, and of course any novel of this kind is tinctured with Georgette Heyer. But it's not like any other book, either, and Novik is an amazingly good writer. Very warm & persuasive on character stuff; clean understated sentences with not the tiniest hint of either the pompous habits that we all tend to fall into when we write pastichey old-fashioned stuff or of overly Heyeresque affectations which are also difficult to avoid; the dragon stuff is EXCELLENT and immensely appealing (the dragon Temeraire is the kind of guy, if I may use the word, who if he wasn't living in the early nineteenth century would be fond of listening to audiobooks while he was in the air); Novik has cunningly avoided McCaffreyesque silliness (don't get me wrong, I LOVED those books when I was a teenager, still like some of them a lot) by having the dragons actually be able to talk instead of communicating telepathically; and the thing I was perhaps most impressed with, because it is rare & because it is a gift I absolutely don't have myself, the storytelling is absolutely masterful. The pacing, the rhythm, the movement--oh, and they have cunningly and crack-withdrawal-y decided to publish the whole big thing not as one long novel but in three volumes (mass-market paperback) to be released in March, April and May 2006. This is going to be HUGE.

I MUST HAVE THE SEQUELS. As soon as possible. I am going to go right now & e-mail the publicist and see what can be done....


  1. As someone who was hooked on McCaffrey in high school and O'Brien post-college, I have to say that McCaffrey + O'Brien sounds INCREDIBLY addictive. My only question would be about sex scenes: are they cheesily and self-consciously seductive like McCaffrey's, or cleverly built up to and then elided like O'Brien's?

    On a side note, have you looked at the list of 100 Best First Lines from Novels ( )? Any thoughts?

  2. Cleverly built up to and elided. Very tasteful. You must read them!

    I am going to go and look at the 100 best lines in 1 hour once I have done my last work for the day...

  3. On the Wynne Jones that started off this enticing post, I brought some of the Chrestomanci books for my elder daughter when she had read Harry Potter for the first time. (The DWJ books had been out of print in the UK but were reissued in the wake of HP's success.) Cathy did not like them all that much, and the one I read to her seemed to me rather convoulted and did not flow well. Jenny has just read Howl's Moving Castle, which she quite enjoyed, but definitely did not devour a la Harry Potter.
    Sarah Weinman has posted a snip about the Novik book. With such high recommendations from you, Jenny, and Sarah, I will have to try it, though according to UK Amazon it is not out here in H/B (as Sarah posts), but in p/b in March.
    Thanks to kermit for the 100 first lines page! Look forward to your views on that, Jenny.

  4. That's so interesting, Maxine. I love those DWJ books, I think the best of them are absolutely fabulous, but I see that they are not all as good as the very best ones. My favorites of the Chrestomanci books are the sort of not-so-Chrestomanci-ish ones, namely "Magicians of Caprona" and "Witch Week." I also love "Howl's Moving Castle" and "Fire and Hemlock"--oh, I love them all, to tell the truth. But my theory is that the amount of time you take to write a book really does show. By which I mean to say that the Potter books are books that took a year or more to write, much more in the first case; whereas the DWJ books distill a few lovely months' worth of the author into book form with greater or less success depending on circumstances to which the reader has no access. "Fire and Hemlock" is worth pressing on the daughters, though, if they are more like 12-13 at least.