Uprooted and Spinning Silver were two of the best books that I read last year, and they left me wanting more Naomi Novik. When I didn’t immediately purchase her new book this year, amazon offered me a collection of her first three Temeraire novels for $3. Obviously, I bought it.
The series starts with His Majesty’s Dragon, which is a kind of weird title since His Majesty has lots of dragons. In this alternate history, dragons exist and are used for warfare. It’s the early 1800s and Napoleon is trying to take over the world. The British ship HMS Reliant discovers a dragon egg when it captures a French frigate. Custom dictates that whoever the dragon first speaks to after hatching will be the dragon’s master. The naval men believe the aerial corp is a group of wild loners, so all fear becoming the dragon’s master. When the baby dragon chooses the ship’s captain, Will Lawrence, he is thrust into the strange world of dragons and dragon masters. With Napoleon inching ever closer to England, he has mere weeks to learn what all of the other aviators have spent their life learning. Will Lawrence and his dragon Temeraire be up to the task?
I loved, loved, loved the first two-thirds of this book. The last third was all about battle; I just don’t care about battle tactics and I didn’t like reading about the dragons getting wounded. But the first two-thirds were all about dragons! Descriptions about their sizes and markings, personalities, different abilities, and particularly about their relationships with their dragon masters. The relationship between Temeraire and Lawrence is sweet and beautiful. I love Temeraire. He’s like a giant, flying cat. I can’t say I’ve ever wanted a dragon before, but this book changed that. Give me one now. Instead of stars, I give it 5 out of 5 dragons.
Throne of Jade finds Temeraire and Lawrence at the center of a diplomatic battle between England and China. China has learned that Temeraire’s egg, which was destined for Napoleon, is now in possession of the English and being used in warfare by a non-royal. This is a great insult to the Chinese royal family, as they believe only royalty should be paired with dragons of Temeraire’s breed, and that they are too precious for military service. They demand the return of Temeraire, but he refuses to be separated from Lawrence. Thus the pair are sent to China with a diplomatic delegation.
Apparently, a lot of readers didn’t like this book because there weren’t many battles. I didn’t mind that at all, but it is a slower read than the first book. The sea voyage to China takes up the first half of the book. That part of the story focuses on the relationships between the Chinese delegation and the English delegation, and between the navy men and the aerial corps. In the second part of the book, the Chinese delegation tries to convince Temeraire that he would prefer life in China. Having seen how much Lawrence loves Temeraire, they also try to convince Lawrence that life in China would be better for Temeraire. This section focuses on the varieties of Chinese dragons and how they fit into Chinese society. I found it fascinating. There were a few action sequences throughout the book, although the big, splashy ones were at the end. While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I can see why some found it boring.
I haven’t read book 3 yet, so that review will be next year.