In another one of those odd literary coincidences two authors simultaneously got the bright idea of writing historical fiction with dragons. But while Naomi Novik has now produced six novels about Napoleonic warfare with dragons: His Majesty's Dragon, Throne of Jade, Black Powder War, Empire of Ivory, Victory of Eagles, and Tongues of Serpents, Mike Resnick has yet to produce the promised follow up to American Revolutionary warfare with dragons: Dragon America.
Of the two Dragon America is the more realistic, if it is proper to use that word in connection with novels about dragons, because in it the dragon is just another animal, albeit an animal with many militarily useful abilities, something like about as intelligent as a dog or a horse. Unfortunately this greater realism substantially reduces the "fun", and dragon fanciers in particular, used to the intellectual equals dragons are portrayed as in most dragon rider fiction, are likely to be disappointed, maybe even appalled at what is done to what is just another animal in this universe.
The novel begins cleverly with a Historical Note about the controversy aroused when "a science fiction writer named Robert A. Heinlein wrote a rigorously extrapolated novel entitled 'Mammal America'" speculating upon how history might have turned out if European settlers in North America had "found themselves surrounded by the same mammalian ecology that existed throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa". The result was books and more books, documentaries, and "more than one fistfight" among "otherwise sedate scholars".
For reasons not entirely made clear (the lack of French intervention?) the American Revolution is going much more badly for the Americans in this universe, badly enough that Daniel Boone has been sent by George Washington to try and recruit some Indian allies. Unfortunately, the number of braves they are willing to spare would not be enough to alter the war's outcome. However, the Shawnee chief's eldest son suggests an alternative: seeking out the great and terrible dragons of legend that they've all heard stories about in the far west, so this they do. Meanwhile General Washington is experimenting with making military use of the much smaller and weaker local dragons, including even of imaginary dragons.
Resnick has offered some truly fascinating ideas about what a realistic Dragon Ecology, with dragons filling most of the ecological niches filled by mammals in our universe, would look like and how they could be made use of by man for military or other purposes. Unfortunately in the process he has considerably reduced their military usefulness in comparison with "normal" dragon rider fiction, to the point that the scheme by which dragon heavyweights are finally brought to bear would make Rube Goldberg blanch and be almost impossible to duplicate. The focus on half a dozen main characters, many of them historical figures, in four essentially separate narratives hinders reader identification. You will be more intrigued by the concept than swept away by the story. The final paragraph reads:
"This was the first time that the dragons of America played a major role in history. It would be far from the last."
Actually, given their limitations and the difficulties involved, I'm thinking it WOULD be the last, which might explain the lack of a sequel.
Note: if you find yourself intrigued by the idea of Napoleonic or American Revolutionary warfare with dragons, how about American Civil War naval action...
Land of Mist and Snow