My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Do you like dragons? I do. I’ve always found them fascinating, how they pop up in the culture and lore of every civilisation around the globe. That’s why I had to check out this particular one too.
Novik has used the Napoleonic Wars as the backdrop of her novel, with every region of the world possessing dragons that are native to their territories. Dragons come in all shapes and sizes, and they all speak, although some are far more intelligent than others. Nations have turned to dragons to form air corps to support their naval efforts and breeding programmes have led to various species. Smaller dragons are assigned courier duties and scouting, whilst large dragons act like WW2 bombers, carrying a whole crew of men led by Captains. The highest prized of all dragons are the oriental ones, especially the rare Imperials, although there is a breed held in higher regard known as the Celestial dragons, but are guarded jealously by their home nations.
The hero of the book is the captain of a ship belonging to His Majesty’s Royal Navy and the story begins when Captain Laurence captures a French ship that is carrying a dragon egg near to its time hatching. Britain’s air corp is in desperate need of dragons, therefore Laurence is duty bound to try and get the egg back to British territories, or failing that find a man willing to give up their life and career to become an aviator. But things don’t go to plan and the dragonat imprints on Laurence upon hatching. A slave to duty, Laurence gives up his commission and career in the Navy and the hand of the fair maiden he had wanted to marry to take up the lonely and despised life of an aviator. But compensation for this choice comes from a strange quarter, his dragon Temeraire, the first Imperial dragon to fall into British hands. Laurence forms a close bond with his dragon to the exclusion of all else, including his own comforts, and between them they are willing to do anything to fulfil their duty to King and country.
The book is very well-written, emulating effectively the style of speech and culture of the time. Laurence, at the beginning comes across very similar to Russell Crowe’s character in Master and Commander, expecting gentlemanly behaviour from his crew regardless of their station in life and the same dedication to duty as himself. What is rather disturbing is how quickly he goes from being a ‘fighting captain’ to a nurse-maid for Temeraire, infatuated and proud in the same way a mother becomes of her precocious son. The plot holds up well and the few surprises that are thrown the readers way are well disguised if not completely hidden.
I wouldn’t say I’ve become a fan, but enjoyed the book and the style its written in enough to consider reading the sequels. Whatever else it is, this book is certainly a good read.