Temeraire by Naomi Novik

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
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Jun 4, 2006
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A review of mine:

Temeraire is an epic fantasy/alternate history crossbreed novel by Naomi Novik, first published in 2006. Confusingly, it is also the first novel of the Temeraire series, an open-ended series which now encompasses five volumes with several more on the way. In the USA, possibly more sensibly, it is called His Majesty's Dragon.

The Napoleonic Wars are raging across Europe, but this is not the history we are familiar with. Dragons exist in this world and most nations have harnessed them to be used as weapons of war. Captain Will Laurence of the Royal Navy wins a great coup for Britain when he captures a French vessel transporting a rare Chinese dragon egg to Napoleon. The egg hatches and the newborn dragon immediately bonds with Will, to his consternation. Once a dragon has chosen its rider, the bond cannot be severed and Will has to give up his career in the navy to train as a dragon-rider.

The rest of the novel follows Will as he learns the basics of serving in Britain's aerial corps and bonds with the young Temeraire, who rapidly grows to maturity, before taking part in a series of engagements with Napoleon's forces culminating in the Battle of Trafalgar and a French aerial assault on the British coast.

Temeraire is a fun read. It's light but enjoyable. Novik paints her characters with a light touch, and after numerous recent dark and gritty fantasies it's something of a relief to read something that is enjoyable and amusing without being drenched in blood every five pages. Conversely, this makes the book something of a popcorn read: a somewhat disposable product. There's some fairly broad characterisation going on there and some of the background doesn't make sense (it's still unclear to me why aviators are considered the scum of the earth compared to soldiers and naval crew), not to mention some fairly wince-inducing, Eddings-esque dialogue between the aviators and their dragons. However, that tends to get forgotten when the muskets start blazing and French and British warships are pounding away at one another with giant lizards battling one another far above, which is all splendidly exciting and well-realised. Given Novik's background in computer programming, it's appropriate to describe the Temeraire concept as an obvious 'killer app', and it's no surprise it was rapidly snapped up for a movie adaption by Peter Jackson (it would be interesting if Smaug in the upcoming Hobbit movie adaption turns out to be a prototype for the dragons in the Temeraire move to follow).

Temeraire ( *** ) may be fluff, but it's fun and easy to read, and I really need to get around to reading the sequels, but as I said with so many other, meatier books around it's easy to forget about this series. The novel is published by Voyager in the UK and by Del Rey in the USA (under the title His Majesty's Dragon). The sequels are Throne of Jade, Black Powder War, Empire of Ivory and Victory of Eagles, with more volumes forthcoming.
 

citri

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May 31, 2008
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I thought that the books in the series were fairly good. They were not particularly deep or meaningful and they were not that complex either. It was a pretty forgettable series. It was quick and easy but lost some of its appeal after a couple of books. After that, it became a bit of a chore to finish up the series (I always finish books/series after I start). If you are bored with no other books to read, you should read the series. If there is any real alternative, you should read it. His Majesty's Dragon was a fun and light read with not much blood, but after that, the books weren't really very good. Empire of Ivory was decent.
 

Anthony G Williams

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Apr 18, 2007
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My review from my SFF blog:

An alternative Napoleonic War – with dragons! This is the premise of the author's first novel, published in 2006, which has since been followed by four sequels.

In almost all respects her world closely matches the historical one, with Napoleon threatening invasion and Nelson leading the British fleet. The author has clearly done some research into both the technicalities of sailing warfare and the stiflingly rigid nature of contemporary British society. The one difference is the existence of dragons occurring naturally around the world, albeit in small numbers and rarely seen. They are intelligent and have long been tamed, forming life-long bonds with particular humans as soon as they are out of their eggs. If this sounds familiar, it is; this particular concept is swiped wholesale from Anne McCaffrey's 1968 novel Dragonflight, one of my favourite SFF stories. Other similarities are that the dragons come in various breeds of different sizes and characteristics, but all of them are big enough to carry their riders on their backs. They can also communicate with humans, although in Temeraire they speak rather than using telepathy. Other differences are that Novik's dragons do not teleport, and the largest of them carry not only their handler but a whole crew of people including rifle squads for aerial combat: for the dragons are a vital weapon to both sides in the war.

The story's hero is Will Lawrence, a successful British frigate captain of aristocratic birth but no fortune, being a third son. He hopes to make his career in the Navy, but his plans are interrupted when he captures a French ship carrying a rare and precious cargo: a dragon's egg. This hatches before the ship can reach land and the male dragon attaches itself to Lawrence, to his great consternation as dragon handlers live apart from society with their dragons and are considered to be of low status. The rest of the story is primarily concerned with Lawrence's developing relationship with his dragon, called Temeraire, as they train to join the aerial forces defending Britain.

While the individual elements of the tale are hardly original, they haven't been put together in quite this way before and the result is a refreshing and entertaining read. It is written as an exciting and fairly light adventure story and is entirely suitable for younger readers as well as engaging enough to keep adults amused. The only aspect which jarred with me was the rather cloying sentimentality of the relationship which develops between Lawrence and Temeraire, which led me to keep thinking of the dragon as female. Still well worth the read, but I'm in no great hurry to get the next one.
 
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