The classic beast meets boy tale set in the middle of the Napoleonic War; filled with intrigue, self-discovery, and pretty practical world building. There is no magic, at least no evident or visible magic and this first book gives no hints that anything beyond really good breeding helps in the creation of these creatures, it isn’t dull. It does lack one thing. Emotion.
I’ve never realized how spoiled I’ve been by certain male main characters, they address not just how they feel about certain situations or disregard larger concepts of loyalty as matters not worth thinking about. I knew I was going to struggle with William Laurence, when he did just that while trying to explain with a perfectly sentient Temeraire who asks why they are loyal to others. William Laurance is a Navy man, with practical Naval thoughts and lacking a certain cunning or a head for math apparently means he doesn’t quite express emotions… like being upset doesn’t register on his internal grid so it doesn’t really come across to us. Which is sad since we get the entire story from his view, though thankfully it’s not first person. The author, Naomi Novik, makes up for the lack by showing us and having Laurence repeatedly tell us that he is incredibly attached to Temeraire and Temeraire to him. These displays, comments, and thoughts is really help us grow close not just to our two main characters, it helps us consider our secondary cast. I say ‘consider’ because they really don’t do much beyond add potential heartache for our main characters and examples of what could happen to them.
The only other flaw of the book is just how weird the connection between Temeraire and William is. It starts off at the beginning of book with Laurence considering the dragon handlers as weird for being content with little to no human contact. Noting that most opt to stay with their dragons, over being with humans. Placing their Dragons over loved one and focusing most of their attention to their Dragon. This is where emotions would be nice as Laurence goes through this change of attitude. He seems to change over night or a few days. Never wanting to leave Temeraire, he is faced with the possibility early in the book and find the thought leaves him feeling empty. He no longer longs for his ship or crew, as he was a Captain in the Navy before bonding with Temeraire. Maybe I’d be more willing to accept his over attachment if he showed it anywhere else in his life. It seems like before Temeraire he lived his life like a checklist:’Do this to get that and end up there’. Rather than truly enjoying anything. In some ways that’s fine that he comes to care so much for Temeraire and by doing this Novik allows Laurence the ability to cut himself off from his family and former friends to become utterly dedicated to Temeraire and the Aerial Corp.
The Aerial Corp comes in a distant second, but it allows our heroes the ability to fight in the war. It also provides a lull in the story as we follow them through weeks and months of training, making friends, learning from their mistakes, and getting ready for battle. In the end, it’s all set up for the last 5 chapters of the book. Here is where I admit that I got a piece of paper and tried to follow the actual battles and combat. I failed. I could barely wrap my mind around how they got massive contraptions onto a dragon that is swooping through space. In the end, I spent most of the book quickly scanning through those moments to the climax then slowed down long enough to enjoy it.
Overall this book was a nice break from the typically magic reach dragon stories, it was still heavily Eurocentric and doesn’t bring an emotional weight to much. There are moments of intrigue towards the end, but you have to wade through training with Temeraire and Laurence. High point! Lady dragon riders! I’m pretty sure if the story had been from a certain female character point of view, I might have been more interested. No offense to Laurence, but the guy really needs to get in touch with his feelings.
Rating: ‘Read for the story and dragon flying, not the characters.’