I’ve written before of my predilection for historic and science fantasy novels, (see my top 10 summer reads) so I reserve a special sense of tiggerish excitement for a book that combines the two. Having just finished all six in the Temeraire series in a row, and slightly saddened at that loss until Naomi Novik writes more, I’ve decided to share the series with you.
I discovered the series as a Kindle 79p book promo (Temeraire for the Kindle is now £1.99, the cheapest paper version’s £5.98 and of course you could also check whether it’s in your local library). The Kindle’s ‘try before you buy’ (download a sample system) has made me more experimental with books I know nothing about (if you’re planning to get a Kindle, do note there are currently cheap Kindle codes available).
This book hooked me in straight away – whereas I’ve learnt from many books in the past not to bother to carry on reading.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to write too much of a spoiler, just the essence of the series. It’s set in Napoleonic Britain, all is as was, with the one minor exception, that sentient dragons exist and are in military service. While far-fetched, it’s done in such a clever and touching way that while reading it, it really doesn’t seem at odds. Dragons exist and they link up with their ‘Captain’ in a life-long partnership.
We see the world through the eyes of Temeraire, a rare dragon breed, and Laurence, a senior naval captain reluctantly switched to dragon back through a happenstance of chance.
There’s an undercurrent of linking the treatment of the dragons to the slave trade, which Wilberforce and the abolitionists were trying to make illegal in the UK at the time. British dragons are depressingly seen by the powers that be as beasts of burden, part of the armaments of a country, and whenever dragons show their intelligence, this is seen as a party trick learnt by rote – by those outside the ‘air corps’ (the direct dragon handlers).
Yet in China they’re seen as honoured citizens. Streets widen to accommodate these heavyweight beasts and they’re part of the caste system, just like people.
While in the first book many of the military actions Temeraire and Laurence engage in are based on historical fact, as the series moves on these diverge into the fictional. At first this was frustrating, yet later I came to love it. It was a joy to follow the author’s reimagining of the difference in outcome had dragons been involved – with aerial bombardment and warfare (albeit slower than modern planes) taking place in an age which had none.
Now don’t allow this dissection to put you off. This is a great, romping, page-turning adventure story. If you’ve time on your hands, or like me, need a good bit of escapism to get away from the day’s stresses, this is worth a try.
The first novel immediately hooked me and the quality was uniformly good throughout (well, all if I’m honest bar book three, which I felt was the runt of the series and just a linking piece to connect the others – but persevere through it).
Let me know below what you think if you’ve read some of the series…
Related past blogs
- Amazon Kindle – probably the best customer service in the world
- Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel – book list update
- My top ten summer reads – Shardlake, Ghengis, Sharpe and more
- Crime and ferocious murder – a great way to learn about the reformation