This is the first Hugo year I can remember (since about 2000) when I had not read a single one of the nominated pieces of fiction before the shortlist came out, but this probably reflects more on my efforts to catch up with classic non-genre literature over the last while than on anything about the quality of the list. I reckon this is the front-runner, though: LibraryThing users own more copies of it than of the the other four nominees combined (as of today, 621 to a combined 479 for the rest), and while general exposure to the book-buying public doesn't necessary correlate directly with Hugo voters' preferences, it seldom runs exactly opposite to them either.
I enjoyed it. I was one of the teenagers who really loved Anne McCaffrey's books on first reading them and then realised that they were rubbish - one of my worst experiences of disillusionment with any author. This story of dragons in the Napoleonic wars is a brilliant counterblast: the internal politicking of the dragonriders is all too true to life, and the girl dragons (and their girl riders) get to fight as well as their male counterparts (though for some reason this is not public knowledge). I'm also in the camp of those who enjoyed Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, though I hated David Weber's efforts. And I also liked the few Patrick O'Brian novels I have read, so it's not a big surprise that I liked this.
Novik scores in my book for a sensitivity to nineteenth-century language which few writers can manage; also for her convincing portrayal of a subtly different history and society from what we are used to (as I said above, I found the internal politicking of the dragonriders most compelling). Towards the end of the book she changes one important detail in a well-known historical event in our timeline, with the result that the reader is suddenly thrown into real suspense as to how closely her world's history is going to map our own - a difficult trick to pull off.
I don't rate this as highly as the last three Hugo winners, but it is a good start to my Hugo reading season none the less.
Top five UnSuggestions for this book:
- A generous or+hodoxy by Brian D. McLaren
- Institutes of the Christian religion by John Calvin
- Libra by Don DeLillo
- The power of now : a guide to spiritual enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
- Laughable loves by Milan Kundera