TLDR: Well that’s unexpected. Originally (8 years ago), I wasn’t thrilled. Enough to DNF the series (although not the book). On a reread (+relisten?), I loved it and am looking forward to more!
8 years ago, I first read Temeraire. I thought the idea was fascinating. An alternate history set around the time of Napoleon, tied fairly closely to our own world. Only: Dragons! Cool, no? And turns out… it is pretty cool!
And yet somehow, I managed to find myself annoyed by the mechanics of dragons, their intelligence, and–for some reason–the idea that there was a ‘chosen one’ trope going on? I feel like I must have mellowed out somewhat in age. Or decided that I like almost everything now. Or read enough really good Naomi Novik that I wanted to give it another try.
I’m so glad I did.
I think that one big difference this time was listening to the audiobook. Some books just work better that way–something about the book picking you up and carrying you along, where it’s easier to just keep listening rather than having to work at it. This is definitely one of them.
Things I loved about the book:
The characterizations of dragons. They live and learn before they’re even hatched (ergo coming out of the shell intelligent). Yet there’s a huge variety between breeds of dragons, more akin to dogs than to humans. The largest are 10 or more times the size of the smallest. Some can breathe fire, most can’t. Some are as smart as, if not smarter than their riders–some are not. Some are faster/slower/configured for endurance/flying tanks. It’s a huge mix–and that’s accounted for.
The use of dragons in war. Another thing that bothered me for some reason. I mean… they’re giant flying lizards. It doesn’t make sense to begin with… but that’s the ‘buy’ of the book: Dragons exist. So anything that dragons existing implies can make sense as well. And the idea of the larger dragons basically being larger than naval ships of the era and crewed in a similar manner, with gunners, boarders, and support staff? Cool. Putting this at the time of Napoleon, where naval battles were huge, complicated affairs, and guns were relatively new and changing warfare? It just works.
The military politics. The conflict between the navy and the arial / dragon core? Wonderful. I love how they each completely look down on the other as completely inferior for the defense of the homeland… and yet it’s really getting a Navy man to join the dragons that really shakes things up for them.
Things that bothered past me for some reason:
- I have no idea what I was thinking about the ‘chosen one’ trope. Temeraire is unique among British Dragons… but there’s a reason for that. And it’s going to cause all the more trouble for them. He (along with his captain I suppose) is the protagonist. So long as it’s played straight through the series–Temeraire can be and is unique due to a combination of rare species and different upbringing–it sounds great to me!
I’m looking forward to actually reading the sequels now. Onward!
Original review (2015-01-25)
This one is a little different, since although there eight novels currently out in the Temeraire series (with another due this year), I don’t plan on finishing the series at the moment.
This was always something that I had in mind when I set my 100 book goal. It’s a lot of books to read and if I’m just not enjoying a series overly much, it’s worth moving along.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy His Majesty’s Dragon. It was a very interestingly written story, in a style that where I can actually imagine people during the era of the Napoleonic Wars speaking (although if they actually spoke like that, I will admit to having no idea). That being said, that was actually one of the the things that took my out of the story. Both of the main characters (the man and the dragon) spoke so eloquently, it was hard to identity with them.
Another positive was how well Novik wove the dragons into the story. It never felt like they were just tacked on, and she seems to have thought through many of the changes that would come about had dragons been there throughout history. It’s an interesting take on alternate history–not changing particularly much, but rather enhancing what already happened with the changes you want to make. At the very least, it saves you the time and trouble of trying to deal with a true divergence. History is complicated. Making up your entire own history as deep and complicated as the real one? Oof.
Back to the negative though, I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the characterizations of the dragons. I understand and like the idea of dragons as or more intelligent than humans, but on the other hand it’s a little strange for them to be so smart just out of the shell–although Novik did comment that was because they learn while therein.
Also, their size. It’s a given in any story involving dragons that the mere idea that they could fly is a little strange. They’re just too big and heavy. But not only can dragons in this universe fly, they can do so while carrying entire crews of men. It’s a really neat idea–that you can basically have an entire navel crew in the air–and on a ‘ship’ as intelligent as a man to boot –but four dragons carrying an estimated 2000 men? That’s almost 40 tons of men per dragon. I’m not buying it. So it goes. It’s still pretty awesome.
And finally, I’m not really a fan of chosen one / only one in the world type stories (one of the issues I had with The Heroes of Olympus as well), which is another reason not to carry on with this series. Throughout the first book is bad enough–ooh, a new and unique species, at least in Europe–the ending implies that the sequels will be even worse. So it goes.
All said and done, I did enjoy the story. It isn’t exactly my sort of thing (thus not reading the sequels), but I’m sure there are many out there who would find it far more enjoyable. It’s a neat world and it wouldn’t hurt to read at least a chapter or two to just to see the writing style. It’s certainly different.