Recently I finished the seventh book in the ongoing Temeraire series. I forgot if I talked about it before, but perhaps not in much detail. In any case, I shall talk a bit about the series and what I think of it. The eighth book was out last year and the ninth book is due in 2015, so I’m not that far behind.
The series is historical fantasy, which will immediately make you think of Pride & Prejudice & Werewolves (well that is for some reason the first book that came to my mind). The creative twist to this is that it follows quite closely the events of the First World War, when England was fighting against France and Napoleon’s forces, but this time their “aerial forces” are dragons. The Air Force ride dragons in combat, with different dragons bred specially for certain properties. To add a personal touch, each dragon bonds with a captain for life — the first human it sees when it gets out of its egg, pretty much. And dragons learn languages when they’re in the shell, so if the egg has been transported from England to the Netherlands on an Indian cruiser, the dragon hatches being fluent in English, Dutch and Tamil/Hindi (I mean of course it depends on what dialect those Indians speak).
I like how she lays out her dragon mechanics in a very unique way. She explains the bonding between dragon and captain, their language fluency, is consistent over different dragon breeds and what they can and cannot do (the Longwings, quite cutely, accept only female captains, which is why women are secretly in the Corps as well). You’re really immersed in the believable and well thought out world. I mean, it’s got to require a lot of planning and explaining to fit dragons into an entire war history. Plus, dragons all have a distinct personality in that they like hoarding treasure such as gold and jewels, and have a distinct outlook of life (they’re quite incredibly selfish, for one, and are constantly finding ways and means to show off their captains). It also brings to mind just what we as humans assume about the world, and how we sometimes trap ourselves with social rules and conventions.
Not only that, Naomi Novik, the author, also challenges herself in 2 other ways. First, throughout the book, all the characters speak in an excellent old British sort of way. They say things like “By God, you will apologize, or for halfpence I will have you flogged through the streets.” You know, the old Jane Austen sort of way? Except it’s written by a modern-day author, and I believe she must have proofread the language over and over again to ensure its accuracy.
Secondly, which is really the highlight of the series, is that each book talks about a particular country’s way of regarding its dragons. I find it very impressive that she has captured the essence of each region and incorporated it believably into dragon culture. For example, England regards dragons as mere fighting machines, whereas China regards them like people, and hatchlings are sent to school and educated. In South America, the Incan regions, dragons are the heads of tribes, and each dragon has an ayllu, or a bunch of humans, under its charge. This is like a complete role reversal, where dragons are the ruling parties over humans. The characters travel to different parts of the world, and each part is fleshed out interestingly.
The dragons themselves are also interesting, particularly Iskierka, the dragon you just love to hate. She is loud-mouthed, unruly and materialistic, and yet so lovable because of it. She is the character who is imperfect and yet because of that she makes the story even more colourful. I hate her, and yet I cannot bring myself to hate her that much. Fortunately, the main dragon, Temeraire, is much more decent and is indeed lovable for the right reasons.
So, yep, this is a pretty different take on conventional dragon tales. If you like historical fiction with a dash of fantasy elements, have a look!