Saturday, November 15, 2008

The extraordinary Temeraire

I discovered this book through a fellow librarian at work, who not only recommended the series, but specifically the audio version. When she said it was swashbuckling adventure during the Napoleonic wars, I wasn't too interested. That is, until she said, "with dragons." Then I was intrigued, and since I've come to trust her taste in books (she is, after all, a Miles Vorkosigan fan), I picked up the first book of the series and started listening.

The premise is that the air corps of the military forces in the world are made up of different breeds of dragons. Each breed has different strengths and advantages, and each dragon must be "harnessed" by a partner shortly after hatching, or it will not be socialized and trainable.

Laurence, a captain of a British sailing ship, captures a French ship, and on board the captured vessel, they discover a dragon egg. It is an amazing prize, but there's just one hitch: the dragon egg is perilously close to hatching, and they are days from shore. One of the ship's officers must attempt to harness the baby dragon, or they risk losing it to the wild, which would be a grievous loss, as every able-bodied dragon is sorely needed to help defend the country against Napoleon. They draw straws, and Laurence includes himself among the officers, because he is an honorable man. None of them wants to be part of the Aeriel Corps - those men who live separately, perforce, from society. Laurence and his officers are seamen, with lives on land, aspirations in the Navy. Laurence is privately embarrassed by his own relief when he is not chosen, although he can see what a poor choice the lad with the short straw is - he's terribly afraid of heights, but he tries, when the time comes, to harness the creature.

However, as Laurence is soon to learn, when dragons are concerned, it's best to expect the unexpected. Laurence's life is turned upside down when the little dragon approaches him, and the dismay he initially feels at the consequences - losing his place in society, his pretty fiancee, his naval career - quickly dissipates as he comes to realize that harnessing the young dragon, Temeraire, is the finest thing that could ever have possibly happened to him.

This first book in the series follows Laurence and Temeraire as they explore their new world together and try to find a place for themselves in the Aeriel Corps. Temeraire is an unusual dragon - his breed is unlike any other in the Corps, and Laurence, as a sea captain, is an unusual dragon rider. But together they make an excellent team, and the development of their relationship as the book progressed was my favorite aspect of the book.

I have seen this book compared with Jane Austen's novels, and it seems an odd comparison for a fantasy novel set during wartime. Yet it is an applicable comparison, especially in the dialogue of the book, as much is conveyed with few words, and what remains unsaid is nearly as important as what is spoken aloud. The audio version is a treat! Simon Vance is such an effective narrator that I found myself forgetting that it was a single person telling the story - it seemed like a host of characters, each with a distinct voice. I particularly enjoyed Temeraire's voice - Vance uses the perfect expression and intonation for his speech.

I was a tad reluctant to read the book initially, because of the love I bear Anne McCaffrey's Pern books, and the fact that most other dragon novels (particularly those about riders bonding with dragons) simply do not hold a candle to the amazing world she created in those novels. I need not have worried - Novik's world is so very different, as are the dragons and their relationships with humans, and it quickly became an entirely separate thing, set as it is in a world that is in every respect realistic to its time period (except, of course, for the dragons).

This was a truly delightful novel, with excellent characterization, tight writing, and effective world building. I am so pleased that there are many more books in the series that have already been published, and I intend to listen to the audio version of all of them. I highly recommend this one!

Books in the Temeraire series:
1. His Majesty's Dragon
2. Throne of Jade
3. Black Powder War
4. Empire of Ivory
5. Victory of Eagles

His Majesty's Dragon (#1 in the Temeraire series; UK title: Temeraire) by Naomi Novik; read by Simon Vance (Books on Tape, 2006)

Also reviewed at:
All Booked Up: "...there's a bit of everything, from battle, to society, to politics and beyond. The pacing seems to be well done, and this is a book where all the positive hype on LibraryThing and elsewhere seems to be correct."
Mikko Reads: "This is perfect entertainment: light and quick to read, but also funny, smart and touching. The main characters in the book are particularly charming."
My Life as Seen Through Books: "I found this book to be a creative and fun read, and the relationship between the dragons and their "handlers" is nothing short of sweet. I mean, who wouldn't want their very own dragon, especially one that's strong, powerful, intelligent, and wholly devoted to you?"
Reading Adventures: "Overall, a very enjoyable read."


  1. It sounds odd but interesting. If I ever get past the commitment I have right now to read for the Cybils, I think I'll try this one out.

  2. Sherry - that is a huge commitment, but I for one am glad you're doing it! I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did if you end up reading it.

  3. I'm intrigued! It sounds very interesting.

  4. With a review like that, these books are going on my list. And I better add the ones by McCaffrey, too. Can you believe I still haven't read any of her's? And who is Vorkosigan? I can see that I need to read more, and much faster!

  5. Oohh, an Austen-esque fantasy with dragons! You need not say more :)

  6. I have this book on my tbr pile and keep putting it off for some reason, even though everyone who's read it, loves it! I think I must make 2009 the year I read this series.

  7. I read the first one several years ago, and have the second on my TBR pile, but I really feel like I need to re-read the first one first. Maybe I'll use any christmas book money I get to pick up the third and fourth one, and then spend January with the dragons. Thanks for the nudge. :)

  8. These have been on my wishlist for some time.. hopefully I will be able to get them bought and into the tbr books soon!

  9. Ladytink - it really is, and I hear the sequels take a new direction and get even better. I'll let you know!

    Booklogged - I know just how you feel! I have a hopeless number of books on my list, and every day I hear about more of them! Try to read the Anne McCaffrey books in order if you can - you'll get more out of them that way. Miles Vorkosigan is the hero of Lois McMaster Bujold's science fiction series, and he's one of my favorite characters ever.

    Nymeth - yes, it's a lot of fun!

    Cath - sometimes the fact that everyone loves it puts me off a book just because I'm afraid it won't live up to the build-up! I hope you enjoy it when you get to it.

    Fyrefly - I am at that "must reread previous book or books" point with several series, and it makes me reluctant to start a new one unless many have already been published. But I still do it anyway, because sometimes you just can't resist!

    Deslily - I have to say, I kept thinking of you as I listened to this book. I think you'll definitely enjoy it!

  10. You're totally selling this book to me! I've picked it up numerous times and thought "Napoleon? War? Not for me!" but it does sound quite good and like something I might enjoy.

  11. Bookchronicle - I am so not a fan of war books, and I loved this. It's really about the characters, and while there are some fighting scenes, it's actually a minor part of the book. I'll be looking forward to hearing what you think of it!

  12. Hmm interesting. A fantasy novel that reminds you of Jane Austen how random!

  13. I absolutely love this series. I've read the first three and they've all been fantastic.

    I have a signed copy of Victory of Eagles that I ordered from Powell's and Naomi included the cutest little dragon sketch with her signature.

  14. I have been meaning to read these for ages...

  15. Thea and I have this lined up up for a joint pretty soon! Glad to see another reader who enjoyed it, can't wait to read it myself.

  16. Rhinoa - I know, it sounds bizarre! But it's true. :-)

    Bookish Ruth - I have #2 lined up on my iPod to listen to soon. I'm so glad to hear you've enjoyed them all so far! And a little dragon sketch. I'm jealous! Sounds very cute!

    Charlotte - I hope you get to it soon - it was such a great read! (or listen, I suppose)

    Ana - Ooh - I can't wait to read your review! Once I get caught up on my blog reading that has piled up while I was away. I'm afraid to look at the number of unread posts. I'm still not caught up on email. Ack!

  17. I cant' rave about this book enough. I'd bought the next three before I even finished it today. The minute I finished it, I had to rave about it, so my review is already posted.

    His Majesty's Dragon

  18. Elena - I'm happy you enjoyed it so much! I've added your review to my post - and I'll be looking forward to your review of the next one. It sounds like you'll be getting to it before I do!

  19. Thanks for adding the link. I'm planning to get the next review up either tonight or tomorrow (by which point it might even be time for the review of book three).

  20. Great! I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts.


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