Fighting Napoleon (with Dragons)
Posted by: Neil Hollands
Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series follows the dragon Temeraire and his captain, Will Laurence, on adventures around the world as they seek to further the cause of the British in their battle to hold out against Napoleon during his expansive wars. I’ve read the first three in a series that stretches to seven titles so far.
In His Majesty’s Dragon, Laurence, in his first career as a sea captain, captures a French ship that carries a dragon egg about to hatch. Dragons in this series imprint on the first human they see, and given their great value in the war, Laurence feels he has no choice but to give up the sea career he cherishes and enter a completely different and somewhat cloistered world, that of the dragon aviator. In Novik’s creation, dragons are like airplanes, with the largest, like Temeraire, carrying large crews into battle. The book follows Laurence as he follows his new life (to the consternation of his family and his intended bride) and builds a deep bond with Temeraire. The story culminates with an exciting air-sea battle to prevent a French land invasion of England.
One of the true joys in this series are the personalities of the dragons, particularly the intelligence of Temeraire. In the second book, Throne of Jade, Laurence and his crew must journey to China to prevent the emperor from reclaiming Temeraire, whose roots are in the Far East. In the third, Black Powder War, Temeraire and Laurence return from China across the Gobi desert, through the Ottoman Empire, and eventually become involved with the Prussian cause at the Battle of Jena and in a siege. Their transporting dragon eggs, and Iskierka, a fire-breather who eventually hatches is a delightfully bellicose character addition.
Fun to certain readers, you might say, but appropriate for book groups? Resoundingly, yes! Outside of the addition of dragons, Novik’s depiction of the history and the social climate of the times is spot on. Laurence’s struggle to maintain an identity as a man and Temeraire’s growing awareness of the servitude into which his immensely intelligent kind are placed without their free will create situations that are eminently discussable. Military fans will enjoy the battles, but there are plenty of interesting characters and relationships to captivate those who aren’t especially fascinated by either war or history.