Rating: 4 Stars
‘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…’
I wanted to like Temeraire more than I did. Don’t get me wrong, I still really enjoyed it, but after the wonder that was Uprooted the next Novik book I read was always going to have a lot to live up to.
The concept is genius – the Napoleonic war with dragons was always going to be a winner – and Novik’s world-building very easily draws you in. The Aerial Corps are wonderfully done, I liked how she blended them in with the rest of society at this period. I enjoyed the subtle differences they made to the hierarchical structure, the prejudices and traditions that were entrenched in them.
I liked that Novik plays around with the gender restrictions of the period: certain breeds of dragon will only accept female Captains, Lawrence’s fiancée throws him over not out of horror at his reduced prospects, but because she is fed up of waiting on his career and wants to get on with her life.
Temeraire himself is the true highlight. A dragon with brains who is far from just an animal or a trusty companion for the main character. I loved the divergences of dragon-behaviour that resulted from him being born at sea – his love for fish and swimming, his unfamiliarity with harnessing and desire for freedom to choose as a result.
Perhaps I didn’t get completely swept up in Will’s story because he kept having moments where he was really quite arrogant. Thankfully he does start to grow out of this a bit as the novel progresses and that is largely thanks to exposure to dragons in general and Temeraire in particular. Will’s well ordered, well mannered way of thinking comes under threat when he’s pulled out of his comfort zone. It’s interesting to see him as both this buttoned up navy officer, bound by honour and duty and also as a bit of a rebel to the Aerial Corps because of his unconventional approach to dragon handling.
I think my main issue is that the pace of this novel was also a great deal slower than I expected it to be. Lawrence and Temeraire spend a great deal of the time training before anything happens directly in relation to the Napoleanic War – though when it does we get a very well written battle that’s well thought out in the manner in which dragon’s could be used in combat.
It still kept my attention though and I’ll definitely pick up the rest of the series.