Ideally, I’d do a review a book on its own but I’ve actually powered through the first four of these books before I realised (staying up far too late far too regularly).
Instead I’m going to give some impressions and thoughts on the first four books and the series in general. I’m going to try and keep this as spoiler free as possible, I should only go into general plot details, but I can’t promise anything!
Temeraire, or His Majesty’s Dragon as it was titled originally, is essentially the Napoleonic War plus dragons. I know, right.
The main story begins when Captain Laurence, captain of a ship in the British Navy, they seize a French ship and it turns out there’s a dragon on board. Thing is, this dragon egg’s about to hatch and when an egg hatches it needs a handler and there’re no Aviators aboard. Aviators are a bit shunned by everyone else because you know, no one wants to be eaten by a dragon, but in the twists and turns of it Laurence ends up with this dragon: Temeraire.
I figure that’s enough context without giving away too much of the first book.
As per usual I’d like pay some service to the cover design. Unfortunately I’m not a fan of the US covers, they’re not really my thing as I generally prefer more stylised covers. The UK covers I think are absolutely great. I think they easily convey the tone and setting of each book and have a really nice, bold uniformity that shows you it’s a fantasy book and a Temeraire book.
Novik’s writing feels like a lesson in brevity, which let’s be honest is something that could be sprinkled into some fantasy novels out there. It’s a great way to deal with some of the long time periods that are a necessity of the travel and the time period. We skip over weeks and months of travel at sea or over land in a few paragraphs and sentences, and it works on a smaller level which was just really refreshing. For example, Laurence at some point (I’ll be honest I can’t remember what point in what book) is trying to figure out something that most Aviators know and raises a query to a fellow non-Aviator. I feel as though in a lot of works the bridge between the question and the answer would have a paragraph or two of ‘Laurence pondered this as he walked away … he walked up to Granby…” etc. But Novik skips literally from the question to the answer with barely a full stop in between.
Not only does that help to deal with these long time periods but it also keeps the pace quick and is the main reason I’ve managed to devour four of these books before lack of funds stopped me.
The first few books do feel a bit plot driven and the characters are reacting to other events but I don’t see that as a bad thing, especially with the setting there’s little else that the characters can do. And, equally, this isn’t to say that the characters are bad; as a double act I love Temeraire and Laurence.
Laurence is a duty-bound Englishman and Temeraire is full of doe-eyed (dragon-eyed?) innocence as he comes into the world and starts having his own ideas about duty and what it means to follow duty. They play well off each other and serve to both challenge and compliment each other as characters.
So far each of the books has dealt neatly with a different issue, and oftentimes setting as well, but still retaining an overarching plot. The first book was a lot more self-contained but definitely left me wanting more, and then as we’ve gone further out into the series we’re exploring different parts of the world and how they interact with dragons and also pulling away from a plot driven storyline as the characters have more of an effect on how things turn out.
One bad thing I’ve noticed, which is a little annoying as it’s not really a comment against the writing so much as proofreading, but there are some errors in the text. (Sidenote; this could just the version I bought for my kindle as well, so if anyone else has noticed this in print let me know) These are just small errors; some extra quotation marks so I thought someone was still speaking and got confused, one recent example went something like this (talking about some dragons flying above a ship) ‘the two dragons were an X, a Y – traded with the French during peacetime -, and an X.’
It doesn’t sound like a lot, and in the grand scheme of things it isn’t, but it’s enough to pull you out of the story for that split second.
But that’s a small gripe and hardly takes away from my enjoyment of the series, I have been recommending this to most people who’ll care to listen and I would highly recommend that if you’re in the mood for a book that is well written (apart from some proof reading errors) and has a load of dragons in it with some good old fashioned gentleman then give this a go.
Novik does do a good job of characterizing each of the players in her novels and you’ll love and hate them, the world building is great as she folds dragons and dragon rearing into the histories of the world. If you’re after a fun read that’s fast paced with good characters and the all-important dragon element then I heartily recommend this series for you!