Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe - James M. Ward
I didn't intent to buy this book. In fact, before I saw it in a bookshop, I'd never even heard of it. There are hundreds of books I've been meaning to buy for a very long time, but when I saw this, and that it combined His Majesty's Royal Navy and dragons, I couldn't very well not buy it. One of those Sir Tessa's dream come true books.
I'd like to say it is well written, but it's hit and miss. The first page made me cringe significantly, and I wondered if I hadn't made a rather large mistake. It comes from trying, and not quite suceeding, to affect a narrating voice reflective of the time. Formal, full of 'quite' and 'splendid'. Sometimes, Ward succeeds with this, other times it wobbles quite drastically. Having attempted to write a story with a strong and unfamiliar vernacular myself, I fully understand how hard it is, and even more the importance of maintaining it consistantly throughout the book.
Aside from that, he is also guilty of sentences that are wrong. Just wrong. He and possibly his editor need a smake for basic sentence structure.
In terms of overall structure, the story is quite simple. It is Midshipwizard Fifth Class Halcyon's Blithe first assignment to a naval ship, none other than on of the great dragonships, the Sanguine. He arrives, makes friends, makes enemies, learns the ropes, and inevitably saves the entire ship from certain destruction, because he's special. Yes, he's from a family famous for its accomplishments in the royal navy, a family with demon blood, he's the seventh son of a seventh son, a rope speaker, a dragon speaker, knows the articles of war inside out, good with a sword, etc etc etc. Everything he does, he does brilliantly. Every now and then, it got a little sickening.
This isn't Ward's first book, as I'd assumed. He has previously written for TSR, which explains why his world building is pretty damn good. Although the enemy, a race of evil shapeshifters, were fairly generic, the dragonships were truly magnificent. A lot of though has gone into their creation and utility (and ultimate destruction, which is a red herring that never comes about), and I probably took more joy in reading about the ship than anything else. Ships have souls, this I do believe, and to see one personified as a dragon that looked after the crew as the crew looked after it was wonderful, and struck a very true note.
Yes, red herrings. There are a great many of those. All sorts of things are hinted at, not at all subtly, only to never, ever, be mentioned again, let alone actually happen. This I found entirely vexing, as I waited to be surprised, all anticipation, for things that never occurred. Instead, all my expectations (which weren't high) were filled. I'm never fond of books which, while refusing to state outright who the antagonist is, will make absolutely no effort to hide their identity. If it's so obvious to me, the reader, it should be obvious to the characters as well.
Despite all this, I had an absolutely brilliant time in the book. I know most writers have a hard time turning off the inner editor while reading, which isn't a problem I seem to have. This book is incredibly rough, but at its core it is something author had a great deal of fun writing, and that comes through. For a book that isn't trying to revolutionise the industry, giving the reader a good time is all you can ask for, and in this, Ward succeeded wonderfully. I hope he will continue to write stories about Halcyon Blithe and the world he lives in, because I will continue to read them.
Verdict: will grate on your inner editor, and delight your inner sailor. Yar. I know ships aren't everyone's cup of tea, but if you have the sea bug, it's well worth it.