Book Review

Temeraire by Naomi Novik


Naomi Novik’s stunning series of novels follow the global adventures of Captain William Laurence and his fighting dragon Temeraire as they are thrown together to fight for Britain during the turbulent time of the Napoleonic Wars.

Captain Will Laurence has been at sea since he was just twelve years old; finding a warmer berth in Nelson’s navy than any he enjoyed as the youngest, least important son of Lord Allendale. 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 overrun her shores.

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 ignores the young midshipman Laurence chose as its keeper and decides to imprint itself on the horrified captain instead, Laurence’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…

A combination of fantasy and alternative history, Temeraire introduces the reader to a world that is both familiar and markedly different.  Set at the time of the Napoleonic wars, both the British and the French have added fighting capabilities in the form of aerial units – dragons, and their aviators.  With a strong bond formed between a dragon and its rider, the aviators stand apart from the rest of society – few marry, having little time to devote to a spouse and / or family, and the feeding and housing of the dragons means that they must seek a home away from the rest of society.

Temeraire – the first novel in the series – provides an introduction to this world.  It is split into three sections, covering Temeraire’s hatching, training, and first experiences of battle as Napoleon seeks to invade Britain.  The first section opens with Navy Officer Will Laurence capturing a French ship that has an unexpected bounty on board – an unhatched dragon egg.  With Napoleon’s forces having the stronger aerial units of the two nations, the opportunity to divert a dragon away from the French to bolster Britain’s own forces is quite the coup.  Things don’t quite go to plan, however, when the egg hatches while they are still at sea.  That bond between dragon and rider is formed at the point of hatching, otherwise the dragon becomes untameable, and Will’s life is turned upside down when the dragon chooses him.

Will is an interesting character.  As a captain in the Navy, he is no stranger to battle and tactics, but life in the aerial corps is entirely different to that of a Navy man, and the aviator role is one that he has little knowledge and no experience of.  This serves as a brilliant introduction to the reader as Will is introduced to his new lifestyle and everything it entails, including the care of his own dragon.  I did find that Will was a little too concerned with propriety at times.  His shock as discovering that there are female aviators was amusing to behold.  He does – to his credit – quickly come around to the idea, and always treats his female counterparts as equals and with the respect that they deserve, but I have to admit that his initial shock and discomfort is quite amusing.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Temeraire – Will’s newly hatched dragon – and possibly my favourite character of the book.  Temeraire comes across as being very human at times – he is able to talk and is extremely intelligent, and yet Novik never lets the reader forget that he is a dragon, and a sizeable one at that.  I loved the bond that is formed between Temeraire and Laurence – after a little soul-searching on Laurence’s part, at least.  I loved the interactions between them which are full of love and companionship.

Temeraire is a great deal of fun, and there are some hints at the end of the novel as to what might happen in the next instalment.  While this first novel sets the scene and introduces the relevant concepts, I feel that there is a whole dragon-filled world waiting to be explored, and I can’t wait to see where the series goes next.

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