Thursday, 22 April 2010

Historical - Temeraire

Temeraire - otherwise known as His Majesty's Dragon - by Naomi Novik, is one of those books I've been meaning to read for several years. I know I've put it on my lists for three, if not four, challenges and each time I've finished the challenge with Temeraire unread. Which is a shame really, although in my defense I've always known I would get to it one day and that when I did I would probably love it. So I wasn't ignoring it in the way that you do sometimes when you've bought a book and totally gone off the idea of reading it. Anyway, enough waffle, this time - I refer to this year's Once Upon a Time challenge of course - I was absolutely determined to read it. And I have!

It's the time of the Napoleonic wars and Captain William Laurence is in command of the British vessel, HMS Reliant. A French frigate is sighted off Madeira and battle commences. The Reliant is successful and takes the French ship, but something is not right. The crew are clearly under-fed and weary and in the hold of the vessel Laurence finds the answer. They are carrying a precious dragon egg and it is close to hatching.

Making swift calculations Laurence realises that they have no chance of reaching shore before the egg hatches. Someone aboard will have to harness the young dragon - thus committing himself to a lifetime of being an aviator. It will mean the end of life as that person knows it because from there on he will have to devote himself to his dragon completely. Lots are drawn and a young officer chosen. He is reluctant but willing, but in the event, when the egg hatches, it is Laurence himself that the dragon bonds with. Laurence's life as a naval officer is over.

Or is it? On reaching shore, the head of the aviators sends someone 'more appropriate' to relieve Laurence of the dragon. Laurence, already very attached, is upset but all is well when the dragon, now named 'Temeraire', refuses the change of partner.

Back in England and after explaining the situation to his horrified parents and fiance, Laurence begins his training in Scotland. He is not welcome in the dragon covert. A 'clodpole' navy man amongst young men trained from childhood to their calling - he is a misfit. Only the other misfits want to know him and his life would be a lonely one if it weren't for Temeraire: the two are now inseparable.

Laurence's task now is prove himself. He has to prove worthy of the very special dragon that Temeraire turns out to be... but he also has to prove to the doubters that he can lead in battle and help win the war.

Well, I was told I would probably love this and of course I did. It was a no brainer really - dragons in the Regency period, what's not to like? Naomi Novik has written a delightful book which focusses, first and foremost, on the relationship between Captain Laurence and Temeraire. I was slightly afraid that the focus might be on battles and tactics and there was some of that, but not enough to put me off.

The relationships Laurence forges at the covert are central to the book as well. There are surprises and tensions and a very steep learning curve for both Laurence and his dragon, because Temeraire is also very new at all of this. Laurence makes mistakes, tries to right wrongs and it's all great fun to read about. The historical detail is not at all dry and dusty but is incorparated nicely into the plot, although this being an alternate universe type of story, there are differences of course.

I'm sure anyone reading this will sense that I enjoyed this book immensely. This of course is only the first book in a series which is now six volumes long and I'm so pleased about that! Hopefully I can pick up book two, The Throne of Jade, fairly soon because I really can't wait.

This is book three for my Once Upon a Time challenge which is being hosted by Carl, and book four for my Year of the Historical challenge, which is being hosted by Lurv a la Mode.



Jeane said...

I haven't read any dragon stories set in actual historical places (that I recall) so this looks fascinating to me!

Ana S. said...

Methinks I'll be reading this very very soon. I actually have a cope and can't figure out what's taking me so long!

DesLily said...

ARGH!! I have this HUGE book that is the first 3 books but between the small print and the heavy book I have put it off..I will try to get to it soon but I think I will not try it for OUaT... at least not for Quest the first.. I have only 2 more to read for that and then I will have done the journey and Quest the first... this does sound good though!!!so glad you got something you zipped right through because it was so good!

Cath said...

Jeane: this shouldn't work at all - dragons and a Regency/Napoleonic war setting, it's too bizarre. But it does, it really does! Amazing.

Nymeth: it took me an age to start this series and I have no idea why either. It was almost like I was saving it for a rainy day... a treat if you like. Look forward to hearing your views on it anyway.

Hey Pat! It's so frustrating that your copy is a heavy omnibus with small print. It would put me off these days too and I've stopped buying omnibusses for exactly that reason - my hands won't hold them. I certainly did zip through this one - testiment to how good it was I think... not on a level with Pern as nothing compares to that, but not too far behind. I'm very taken with Temeraire, the dragon. Novik has hit the nail right on the head with the relationship between him and Laurence. I planned to get the next book from the library but in a moment of weakness ordered the next two from Amazon last night. *Shakes head at self*

LizF said...

I read the first few chapters of Temeraire a couple of years ago but got no further because it was a library book which had to go back.
I bought it as soon as it got into paperback because I had really enjoyed what I had read but sadly it has remained on my shelf, untouched, ever since. That didn't stop me buying the next three in the series though when i saw them on offer, so now they are all there reproaching me!

Cath said...

LizF: I know that feeling! I've done it myself on numerous occasions. The book is well worth picking up again though, imo.