Tuesday, April 24, 2018

His Majesty's Dragon & Throne of Jade, by Naomi Novik

Today I'm looking at the first two books of the Temeraire Series by Naomi Novik. I was loaned the first book, His Majesty's Dragon, by a friend some time ago but I didn't write a review because I realized there were nine books in the series and since I've got a to-read pile about a mile high at this point I decided to let it go. ...and then I realized that the library had at least some of the books in the series available as audiobooks that I could listen to at work so then I started Throne of Jade. Which means this will be a combined review of the first two books and then I'll start taking the books one at a time as I get to them.

These books are a combination of fantasy and historical fiction sort of like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, although I think I make the comparison because this book is also set during the Napoleonic Wars. These books were basically described to me as ''Napoleonic Wars but with DRAGONS!'' And Novik really does take that concept and run with it, going so far as to create biological treatises on dragons as supplemental material for her universe which makes it all the more believable.

Our book begins with Captain Will Laurence, commander of the HMS Relaint, intercepts a French ship in the Atlantic. After a battle and boarding action Laurence and his crew discover the French had been carrying a dragon egg of an unknown species back to France and it's about to hatch. Laurence and his crew prepare the best they can but everyone's surprised when the dragon chooses Laurence for his companion. Laurence then receives an unexpected career shift from the Royal Navy to the Aerial Corps and the rest of the book is Laurence and Temeraire learning about their new life.

Obviously having dragons as an air force in the last great era of linear tactics can have dramatic shifts in how the Napoleonic Wars turned out, but I think Novik manages to put in enough explanation for why the Napoleonic Wars are still going. First the number of dragons, at least in Western Europe, is fairly small and they don't breed quickly so there's an incredibly finite supply of dragons. Secondly, within that number of dragons there are an even smaller number that have projectile weapons like fire or acid so the dragons don't make as large an air force as they might like. In fact, because a lot of the combat dragons are so freaking big the standard European practice is to have riflemen and bombadiers ride the dragon. The result is the dragons tend to fight each other and act as raiders rather than a strict air force.

The climax of the first book involves Temeraire and Laurence successfully foiling an aerial invasion of Britain by Napoleon, as well as discovering that Temeraire is in fact a Celestial Dragon, one of the rarest and exalted of the Chinese dragon breeds. The second book begins when a Chinese embassy arrives in Britain and is rather keen on getting Temeraire back. What follows is an expedition across the globe on the British dragon carrier H.M.S. Allegiance to reach China. China provides an extreme contrast because while dragons are rare in Europe, they are far more common in China to the point where dragons share cities with humans and even participate in civil examinations. This puts strain on Laurence's and Temeraire's relationship because dragons have so many more freedoms in China than in Europe. However Temeraire is ultimately attached to Laurence and to his adopted homeland of Britain and the war in Europe.

As I said, the concept is interesting although I do wonder about how my countrymen, the Prussians, adapt to the dragon situation and I'm hoping we'll see more of that in later books. If you like dragons and like the Napoleonic Wars, I think this is definitely a worthwhile choice.

- Kalpar

No comments:

Post a Comment