First Published: 2006
Pages: 340 (Paperback)
Series: Temeraire #1
Captain Will Laurence has been at sea since he was just twelve years old. Rising on merit to captain his own vessel, Laurence has earned himself a beautiful fiancée, society’s esteem and a golden future. But the war is not going well. It seems Britain can only wait as Napoleon plans to invade.
After a skirmish with a French ship, Laurence finds himself in charge of a rare cargo: a dragon egg bound for the Emperor himself. Dragons are much prized: properly trained, they can mount a fearsome attack from the skies. One of Laurence’s men must take the beast in hand and join the aviators’ cause, thus relinquishing all hope of a normal life.
But when the newly-hatched dragon decides to imprint itself on Laurence, the horrified captain’s world falls apart. Gone is his golden future: gone his social standing, and soon his beautiful fiancée, as he is consigned to be the constant companion and trainer of the fighting dragon Temeraire…
Catching up on some reviews that, for various reasons, I never got round to writing in 2013.
Literally everything about the premise of this book is fucking awesome. I mean…It’s the Napoleonic wars! Fought with dragons! How is that not one of the coolest things ever?! It takes the dragon rider concept (which generally I kind of hate) and does something neat and unique with it. And it’s a fun book. It’s not high literature, it didn’t blow me away, but it didn’t waste the concept either. It’s light fun reading and I enjoyed it.
The protagonist, Captain Will Laurence, is a naval captain who, after capturing a dragon egg bound for Napoleon himself, finds himself in the unfortunate position of having a dragon hatchling imprint on him. With dragons being such valuable weapons in the war, Laurence is forced to give up his naval position, his position in society, and his fiancé, to join the Aerial Corps.
Now at the start of the book, I felt that both Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire, came dangerously close to being mary sues – Laurence as the brilliant newcomer who does things better than the people who have been doing it forever, and Temeraire as the precious child with the armour piercing questions that make people reassess their beliefs and values. But, actually, as the story goes on Novik managed to subvert my early fears. Laurence isn’t the first person in the world to believe dragons should be treated as friends and companions rather than modes of transport! He’s still the first person to implement new training methods, but the other dragon riders aren’t ignorant about their dragons either! He also makes mistakes and cocks up on occasion, which goes a long way to making up for him being brilliant most of the rest of the time. he doesn’t swoop in and transform the Aerial Corps, it slowly transforms him. And Temeraire… actually no, Temeraire is totally still a mary sue, but I guess he’s a dragon so… we’ll see if he has any cock ups himself in later books.
Other really refreshing things about this book in no particular order. Despite the dragons, it’s a war novel, not a fantasy novel. There’s no big bad evil guy plotting the heroes downfall, just two countries at war, using dragons as weapons with fighters on both sides being ordinary humans no better or more moral than each other. Dragon riding! It’s not just one guy sitting on the back of a dragon being superfluous (cause really what can a dragon with one guy on the back do that a dragon on its own can’t?), Novik takes full advantage of the fact that dragons are big. These are dragons crewed by whole teams of people; it’s dragons as air-bound naval warfare, people hanging off harnesses, shooting their guns at enemy crews and battling off boarding parties. Romance! Or lack thereof. There is a romantic thread to this book, and I actually don’t particularly like it, but I really respect that it does not, at any point, become the main focus. There’s no angst, no ‘does she like me’. Laurence splits up with his fiancé and he gets over it straightaway because he’s got important shit to deal with, his life’s been turned upside down, and he’s too busy/tired to think about her much. And when he meets someone else who can fit in with his life, it’s just one small aspect of the story, barely a part of the main plot at all. That said, I’m still not sure I like that relationship (although I do like both characters) but thank you Novik for sparing me romantic wangst about it. Nicely done. Oh and working females into military roles even in a historical setting – always a fan of that. More of that please.
It’s been a while since I actually read this book (am trying to catch up on my backlog) but reviewing it again has got me looking forward to the next book all over again. It’s just the sort of easy fun read I need during term-time too, so I’m bumping books 2 and 3 up near the top of my ‘to-buy’ list.