Books

Temeraire series by Naomi Novik

My previous post was about one of the best greek fantasy series I have read. This gave me the incentive to write about another fantasy series, this time not in greek, that I read in the end if lady year and i enjoyed really a lot: the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik.

The idea behind these books is brilliant: how the world would have been if dragons existed. The author answers this question for the period of the Napoleonic wars and creates a really interesting story! Naomi Novik gives the historic facts a fantasy touch, creating therefore a really interesting alternative story.

In the Temeraire series, the existance of dragons is normal. There are several breeds and they are creatures with intelligence that communicate by talking the human language and collaborate with humans with different ways. For some nations they are like gods and they are worshipped and obeyed, while for other nations they are rare and scary, but they are definitely not evil by default and they are used for special tasks, due to the fact that they can fly. As the story takes place in the beginning of the 19th century, in an era during which Europe experienced extensive wars, dragons are used as aircrafts and constitute the official Airforces of the European nations!

The Temeraire series consist of 9 books. The main two characters of the series is William (Will) Laurence, a british naval officer, and Temeraire, a chinese dragon. In the nine books we follow their adventures around the world from Europe, to China and Japan in Asia, to Africa, to South America and even Australia. The strange duo meets a lot of other humans and dragons, make friends and enemies and gain experience that will form their ideas and lead them to take difficult decisions. In total an exciting alternative version of a major part of the European history. Most books move with fast rhythms with only a few exceptions. Some of them were so captivating, I could have skipped sleeping to see what happens next! I did read the first five of them within 20 days, and the whole of series in 40 days!

And now I am going to write my review of each book individually. In case you want to avoid spoilers or you don’t want to know which books were less interesting than the others, you have to stop here.

In the first book, His Majesty’s Dragon, Laurence’s ship captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo: an unhatched dragon egg. Unfortunately the egg hatches before they reach England, so as to deliver their treasure, and dragons are creatures that create special bonds with the first person that harness them. Laurence is the first one to harness the baby dragon and names him Temeraire, after a ship! As a result, Laurence’s fate is changed after this and from naval officer he ends up part of the British Aerial Corps, as captain of a rare in England dragon. During this book, this strange duo discovers themselves.

Already from the first pages of this book, I found it so captivating and I could not set it down! Temeraire is a really intelligent dragon, who learns fast, but finds it difficult that he is different from all the other dragons. Laurence is himself also different from all the other Aerial officers. He has not grown up with their mentality, and he is already a bit too old to change from the strict, noble upbringing. I really enjoyed that he was not pretending to be a hero.

In the second book, Throne of Jade, a diplomatic incident occurs when the Chinese find out that their noble gift, intended for Napoleon, ended up into British hands and is used as a common dragon. Temeraire is really of the royal dragon family in China and it is absolutely a disgrace that he is used as a common dragon, so an angry Chinese delegation arrives in Britain to reclaim him. Laurence and Temeraire, relactuntly, have to travel back to China, in a long and dangerous voyage. In this book there is less action compared to the previous one (a big part of it takes place on a ship afterall), while political games are played in every turn either in Britain or in China. We get to see how dragons are treated in China and Temeraire gets to meet his mom and his family and be treated as a royal. In the meanwhile he learns to write, gets a girlfriend and a really strong enemy too!

The third book, Black Powder War, is about the return of Temeraire and his crew back home. This time they don’t go by boat, but decide to follow the land route, as they receive the mission to collect three eggs from the Ottoman Empire on behalf of Britain. We follow their adventures as they cross all of China and Asia, to reach their capital of the Ottoman Empire. There they get treated strangely, as there is nobody that seems to know about their mission. More adventures and problems follow, as they try to cross over Europe to reach home in a chase against time , but central Europe is in war with Napoleon, who by now has reached Prussia.

I personally enjoyed this book more than the second one, but not as much as the first. Both the dragon and his crew add up experiences and they get some more unexpected friends in a group of feral dragons they faced in the mountains of Asia. Temeraire, who has a special ability in learning languages, expands his knowledge, gets to taste life as a feral, learns the fighting techniques of the Prussian Aerial Forces and observes the French Aerial Forces. He starts forming the dream of his life, that dragons and people will live in harmony in Britain and Europe, the way they do in China. All this knowledge will be useful in the future and I hope that his position in Britain will improve.

In the fourth book, Empire of Ivory, Temeraire and his crew end up in Africa. The English dragons have become sick and are slowly slowly dying. The doctors notice that Temeraire is immune and his crew remembers that during his trip to China he got sick and they suspect that he was cured by something found in the Cape town area and became immune. So Temeraire and his formation travel to Cape Town to try and find the cure. That leads to an incredible adventure, as inland Africa is ruled by a collaboration of dragons and humans. Each tribe has its main dragon that is a reincarnation of all the spirits of their ancestors.

It is so interesting to see that dragons play different roles in different parts of the world. In Britain they are only beasts, in China they are entities and in Africa they are Gods. This book is based less on historical facts. It is nice to meet again Maximus and Lily, the British friends of Temeraire, which I had personally missed in the previous books. The story escalates tremendoulsy and the book finishes with an absolute cliffhanger!

The fifth book, Victory of Eagles, continues at the point the previous one stopped. Temeraire and Laurence are punished for what they did in the previous book, but Temeraire is too precious to risk executing Laurence for treason. In the meanwhile, Napoleon has defeated all other European armies and finally decides to attack Britain. After his successful crossing of the Channel, Temeraire and Laurence become far too valuable to be wasted around in breeding the former and prison the latter, so they are called back to service. Well, Temeraire has already proved to have a strong character and have had ideas of his own, so he becomes the kind of leader he was born to be! Thanks to a misunderstanding, he organises the breeding dragons into a regiment and succeeds in a few victories against the French before the British army had time to realise where the French were. From there on, the war becomes more serious and the defense more organised and Temeraire achieves in realising some parts of his dream for the dragons.

As in the previous book, the story escalates all through this book, but the end is a bit of an anticlimax. Nevertheless, it is a new start for Temeraire and Laurence, even if closing the door behind them is at the same time sad. Since this book, there is another dragon with strong opinion in the group, Iskierska, but she is totally different than Temeraire. Nevertheless, she is funny, although annoying from time to time.

The sixth book, Tongues of Serpents, takes place in Australia, but the story itself here is less exciting and the rhythm much slower. It was all a bit too obscure for my taste and too bizzarre. I found this book the least interesting of the series.

In the seventh book, Crucible of Gold, Laurence and Temeraire find themselves in South American and the Incan empire. The plot gets an even more alternative route compared to history. I found this book interesting in the first half, up to the point the group reached the capital of Incas, but it became a bit boring from this point on. Excitement was building up with all the mishappenings during the trip from Australia to Cusco, but their arrival to Cusco doesn’t continue as interestingly. It rather gives the impression that the author did not have any good ideas for what could happen there, or maybe we really had to feel how boring it was waiting at the court of the Incan empress.

The eigth book, Blood of Tyrants, finds Laurence in Japan, suffering from partial amnesia. He doesn’t remember anything of what has happened during the last eight years, so he thinks he is still a naval officer. After several adventures, Temeraire finds Laurence and helps him to retrieve his memory. They travel once again to China and this time they end up in Moscow, accompanied by several Chinese fighting dragons, so as to help the Russians to fight Napoleon.

The story in this book moves fast! Incidents happen everywhere. Laurence has to escape from Japan, while he is not sure why he is there or where he came from. I read in several reviews that people didnt like the amnesia trick. Living with a parent who has days during which he has forgotten even strong emotional moments as my mom’s death, yes I believe it and I can understand it. In general, I liked this book. Once again, the story is interesting. We get to see how another nation treats their dragons: Russia seem to be the worse in Europe! 

The ninth book, League of Dragons, is the last in the series and I found it a really nice ending! A lot of war action and the end of the Naopoleonic wars are included in this book. Well, the outcome is not different from history, but the way reaching it is! I was so interested to see what Laurence and Temeraire would do after the war and I definitely like what they decided! It totally fits Temeraire!

I totally loved this series! Thank you so much Naomi Novik for an amazing story! I have always liked dragons, but they are usually presented as evil and mean. I wish the discussions about turning it to a tv series goes through. Do you think the series will be as good as the books, or do you think they will be disappointing?

Since my other hobby is crochet, I have created my own version of Temeraire, although to be honest he looks more like Maximus than Temeraire. What do you think?

My Temeraire (left) with his friend the Basel Basilisk (right)

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