This is why I never DNF books. Well, that and the OCD (legit, not just using it facetiously). I had a hard time getting into this (I’ve had a hard time getting into several books the last couple of months–my brain is not wanting to cooperate with me). It took me what felt like weeks to get past the first thirty pages. And it’s not like what was there was bad, I just couldn’t engage myself in it for some reason. Novik styles the book as if it were really written by someone living in 1804, and the diction and sentence structure take a bit of getting used to. The story itself is also more leisurely than contemporary books have accustomed me to. But this is really a lovely book, and I’m so glad I pushed myself to finish it.
The basic premise here is: What if the Napoleonic Wars? But with dragons? (Necessitating a long and complicated co-history with dragons and humans that this first book does not go into.) Our main character is Will Laurence, a captain in the British Navy whose ship captures a French vessel bearing a dragon egg that is about to hatch. Duty compels them to harness the dragonet and claim it for England, which would mean that one of the men aboard ship would essentially be giving up their life as it is, and instead devoting himself to the dragon, and the Corps (a military aerial division using dragons). They draw lots, but the dragon takes a liking to Laurence, and he ends up harnessing it, a male he names Temeraire.
Temeraire turns Laurence’s life upside down. He gives up his captainship to join the Corps, which doesn’t welcome him with open arms, as the Corps members are typically recruited as children, and they have a strange culture. His fiancé rejects him, justifiably, as his focus and priority will be Temeraire for the rest of his life. And indeed, they form an intense affection and intellectual bond, as Temeraire turns out to be fiercely loyal and intelligent.
It was really fun seeing Laurence adapt to the Corps, which is very informal, has women officers (the scandal!), and there is socializing between classes constantly. He has to earn their respect as not only an outsider, but as a man who did not do his due and was handed a dragon (a rare and intelligent one) anyway. I also loved the bond between Temeraire and Laurence, as they become devoted to one another during their training, which is right at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, about six months before the battle of Trafalgar.
I never studied Napoleon in school and don’t know much about that time period other than what I’ve read in British literature (fiction, mostly not concerned with the war other than how it affected the characters), but from my limited knowledge, Novik has done a great job recreating that period, and then messing it up again with the introduction of dragons.
I’ve seen later books in this series get lower ratings, but I’m really excited to keep going. I’ve owned the first four books for years and years. The rest of my reading year is already spoken for, but I’m definitely tackling the rest in 2020.
Read Harder Challenge 2019: An alternate history novel.
CBR Bingo: And So It Begins