This book was neither fantastic nor life changing, neither a favourite nor the best written. But do you know what? It was damn enjoyable, charming and a tad intriguing.
While its unique selling point is the fact that it’s about the Napoleonic war but with dragons you don’t really see much of the war. It focuses on the relationship between Captain Will Laurence, in charge of the naval ship the Reliant, and his dragon. He has been a part of the navy since he was 12, steadily working his way through the ranks. He’s happy with life, defending his country from the enemy and has the prospect of marriage on the horizon.
That is until one day his ship comes across a French transport which happens to be carrying a dragon egg that is close to hatching. None of the men take heart at this because to become an aviator means to become a social outcast. Yet England is desperately in need of more dragons and Laurence considers it his duty to harness the creature once it is hatched.
This book is very well thought out. Novik has certainly been able to integrate these two separate worlds together convincingly. Instead of focusing on the action of war she is careful to give priority to the relationship between dragon (Temeraire) and aviator (Laurence).
It starts off tentatively at first, Laurence ever so slightly resentful of losing the promising life he had in front of him for one that he knew nothing about. Yet before long it is clear that there is nothing more important in his life to him than the rapidly growing Temeraire.
Before long they both find themselves winging their way to a training ground in Scotland where they grow closer. In fact I think the relationship between the two is the most endearing part of the series. Temeraire comes across as wise and intimidating yet he cares deeply for Laurence and soon comes to understand the importance of duty. As for Laurence himself he’s a good captain and takes his duty seriously but with the introduction of the dragon into his life he softens ever so slightly and adapts to this startling change of career quite well.
The depth of knowledge that Novik provides in regards to the dragons is pretty good too. She has introduced several breeds each with their own uses for the Ariel Corps and there is also a hierarchy depending on their size and breed however I can’t really go into much detail because I’m not too sure of it, but I can offer this: Temeraire is a rare breed and therefore I think he has a higher standing.
Now going back to what I said at the very beginning, there are places where I found myself to be bored and it also took a while to get into, considering this book is barely more than 300 pages that’s a bit unfortunate. While it does successfully mix fantasy with reality it cannot quite claim the ingenuity of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. And Novik has done her best capture the essence of the time and that means some strangely worded sentences which can sometimes catch you out.
There are a couple of battles within the book which were enjoyable, it was good to see her interpretation of battle between two dragons and their crew however I didn’t quite feel the hopelessness of the situation and I also predicted the sort of mini-twist that comes to the fore at the end of the book as soon as it was hinted at beforehand.
So while her intentions might be a bit transparent and battles not so engaging I will definitely be buying the rest of the series. This was, after all, Novik’s first novel and I have no doubt that the other books in the series will get better and better. Also Portsmouth was mentioned (yay!) and I have to see if it gets anymore page time.