Author – Naomi Novik
Pages – 333
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…
Temeraire (also called ‘His Majesty’s Dragon in some countries) is an expertly written historical fiction with welcome addition of dragons. It does Napoleonic history brilliantly with a real grasp on the time period.
I’m just not sure it was 100% for me at the current time. I’m not somebody that needs mindless action sequences all the way through to enjoy a book or film but I do think the plot could have been livelier and there were times it felt more like a period drama than ‘The Napoleonic Wars with dragons.’
That’s fine if that’s what the author was aiming for – just for me personally, it made the book feel quite slow, despite only being just over 300 pages. I think it would have been improved by possibly extending the length of the book and interspersing the societal stuff with just a little more excitement – not necessarily involving the dragons, but all too often the plot revolved around a slight a character said, or the questioning of the status quo. It is despite this, a superbly written book and the lack of engaging plot is somewhat counterbalanced by the beauty of the prose and how expertly Novik captures the essence of the era.
It’s obvious she has taken the effort to enhance the realism in the dialogue between the characters and the attitudes conveyed. It is perhaps because of this realism that our main character, William Laurence comes across as a bit pompous and easily offended. Although you can easily like his character, I found him hard to love. His relationship with his dragon, Temeraire is one of the book’s strength and it is really heartwarming at times. I enjoyed reading about the captain’s relationships with their dragons, and there is a really poignant moment at one point in which one French captain demonstrates his love and attachment for his dragon in the midst of battle that was a little bit lump-in-throat. Learning about the dragons themselves; both the type of breeds and the individual characters of the dragons in the story was rewarding too.
While the setting can be seen as a strength, being able to play on an interesting time period in which dragons are such an exciting addition to complement naval warfare, having it loosely follow real events and characters does give it limitations. The dragon elements will probably limit the full historical fiction audience of whom some will want a more serious and realistic plot. And the alignment with real history and keeping to actual events albeit with slight twists could limit the amount of fantasy fans who will want to read, if they’re looking for something with a bit more scope for adventure and fantastical elements.
Who this book does work for is someone who is equally happy in both genres and has time to relax and take their time to read it. Sometimes with a hectic life, people have to take 5 minutes here and there when they can to read. Temeraire isn’t the type of book to pick up and smash through ten minutes of on your lunch break. It’s a book to curl up with by the fire on a winter’s night with a warm mug of something and no pressing books needing to be read on the horizon. It’s then that you can appreciate the setting and work that has gone into the book without any impatience.
I can see this being some people’s very favourite book and a true 5 star read. It has a lot of quality and afterall, dragons. Although it wasn’t quite what I’d have liked, it definitely has the potential to work perfectly for others so give it a go. I’ve actually bought books 2 and 3 on ebook and when my reading list has settled down a little I may venture back into this series.
Thanks for reading!