Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors’ ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature.
Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.
I have to admit I wasn’t expecting much from this book, after all I found it lying around on the floor at the recent Emerald City Comicon so it that didn’t bode well for it. Once again I was proved very wrong and was pulled into this novel from the very first page; how can I have not known of this series before now? It definitely falls into the category of one of those great little secrets that not enough people know about.
The characters in this first book in the series are well-developed, but not to the point where there is no room for growth, and there is no romance which is very rare in this genre of book. The relationship covered in this first book is that between a man and his dragon; the Temeraire (the main dragon protagonist) and Laurence (the main human protagonist) bond is a deeply emotional connection. There is palpable love between man and dragon, and their relationship is the emotional thread that weaves through the novel. Temeraire is intelligent, logical and witty with a childlike wonder for the new world in which he finds himself. Laurence is the battle proven Naval Captain that patiently guides him through the world in the best way he knows. Neither of these characters have experience with the world of the other, but the Author brings those two worlds together via these characters in a realistic and caring manner. The Author captures the warmness and sincerity of their bond, enough to give balance to all the colder, plot-driven elements of the story. This novel is primarily an adventure, a story in wartime, an exploration of dragons in this fascinating alternate history society, but in its writing the Author doesn’t neglect the warmer, more ‘human’ side of things. There are moments of extreme emotion and emotional distress, mostly due to the closeness that aviators develop with their dragons, and each moment played out realistically. When it comes to moments of high emotion I feel that each one has to be earned in character, in story, in meaning, and I feel cheated when I think the Author is trying to manipulate me to respond; this Author used no manipulative techniques at all as the reader is right there feeling everything with the characters.
The world-building is handled with startling grace, given that this is the Author’s first novel. This was one of the main pleasures of this book for me; the authentic feel of the world that was built. It is apparent that extensive amounts of research went into correctly portraying 19th century English society, from the realities of the Navy to the manners of the drawing-room. And best, none of it is done in a lecturing way; it is all of it presented as naturally as possible. The Author hasn’t let research intrude at all upon telling the story, and better yet, her addition of dragons into this world is so well thought-out (from their feeding, breeds, natural inclinations, personalities, levels of intelligence, size and temperament, mode of fighting and the innovative invention of aerial fighting) that it adds to the depiction of the historical period. In a seamless manner the Author grafts on her inventions to the known historical realities, and comes up with a beautifully realised fictional world that’s meticulously detailed and worked out. I particularly liked the fact that there is so much thought given to how the dragons would fit into this society, and she succeeds in a way that few Authors in this genre succeed.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who likes dragons, alternate realities or fantasy; actually I recommend this book to anyone who likes a good, well written story and feel that even readers of the Master and Commander and Dragonriders series of books would enjoy this as well. I will definitely be reading the remaining books in this series.