Saturday, July 23, 2011

Review of Naomi Novik's Temeraire Series

I stumbled upon the first of Novik's Temeraire series when at a library book sale several months ago. Since then, it's been sitting on my immediate queue bookshelf, waiting for me to pick it up. Every once in a while I would pick it up, read the back, and laugh over the fact that someone wrote a book about dragons in the Napoleonic era. What a silly idea, I thought.
I was so inconceivably wrong.

Four books later into the series, I am in love with these books, and could wait no longer than to post a review of the four I have read thus far. Books five and six arrived yesterday and I cannot wait to tear into them.

Most of the time, dragons are relegated to a) the villain or a villain's side kick, and/or b) an unthinking beast, hording jewels and gold, and barbecuing everything and everyone in its path. This is exactly the opposite of the dragons in Novik's series. Dragons are much like humans, some a little slow, some incredibly witty and intelligent; some are large, some are small. They are different colors and sizes and there are different breeds, depending on a dragon's birthplace in the world. The Chinese dragons are put on pedestals and erudite, and the dragons in other parts of the world breathe fire and spit acid. Dragons are mostly used as mounts in this world, and Novik does an exceptional job in detailing exactly the types of harnesses, riders, and other dragon needs that need to be attended to. She leaves nothing to chance. At the end of the first book, there are even drawings of several of the breeds to further illustrate this lush world that we know so well, yet with dragons.

In most countries (and I will say most, since Novik has been taking the reader all over her world), dragons, once hatched, acquire a "captain". This works much in the same way as a captain of a ship. The captain acquires a crew and lets his crew know what to signal to the other dragons in a formation, similarly to a ship's fleet. My favorite part, however, is the deep bond that is created between a dragon and its captain, at least in most cases. The main two characters, Captain Laurence and Temeraire, embark on a relationship that include them fighting together, to Laurence reading to Temeraire every evening by lamp light. The humorous scenes come frequently, and it's difficult to remember that this cute little dragon who makes inquisitive comments such as that he thought humans also hatched from eggs, is actually a beast that fits well over forty people on his back.

Their relationship begins when Temeraire all but falls into Captain Laurence's lap. A naval captain, Laurence is not eager to join the corps, those who work with the dragons, but when Temeraire selects him as his captain, Laurence has little choice. Through the four books, Laurence and Temeraire learn how to fly and fight together, visit Temeraire's home, and learn of an impending enemy, one who has a very familiar shape. Between dragons who get sick and sneeze acid, to dragons who with their captains are holding back the French from crossing the channel, the reader is swept up in this beautifully reimagined world. Saying much more, sadly, would contain spoilers, even with where Temeraire is from, because half of the joy is learning what type of dragon he is, and why he is so insufferably intelligent.

If you're not a history buff, never fear. Novik does an excellent job in having the series take place in the Napoleonic era (and even includes Napoleon himself), however, Novik does an excellent job of explaining what is happening, without bogging you down with details that would lose your interest. If you are a history buff, however, those details that are overlooked by those of us not as well versed in Napoleonic era terminology and/or events, are given in detail, and you will feel as if you're a part of it. You will also especially appreciate how accurate these details are, especially since Novik is a self-professed Napoleonic era history buff.

I highly recommend picking up this series for any lover of fantasy literature. I will be delving into book five soon and know already from history that it won't disappoint.

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