Naomi Novik’s Temeraire

I didn’t discover Naomi Novik’s Temeraire novels until the first three books had been published and I picked up an omnibus edition from the Science Fiction Book Club, back in 2006. It was with some regret that I read the ninth and last novel in the series, League of Dragons. I hate to see the saga end.

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The quick description of the series is hard to resist: “the Napoleonic Wars—with dragons.” The dragons are sentient and vary in size, with some able to carry large crews of soldiers. The British dragons are organized into the Aerial Corps; dragon-borne forces have become a mainstay of warfare, but the dragons and their captains and crews remain largely outside the traditional military social structure.

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In the first novel, His Majesty’s Dragon (2006), Royal Navy Captain Will Laurence captures a French ship carrying a precious dragon egg intended for Bonaparte himself. TemeraireWhen the dragonet Temeraire hatches prematurely and bonds with the captain, Laurence finds he must leave his Naval career behind to join the Aerial Corps, a tight-knit organization very much separate from the rest of the British military.

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In Throne of Jade (2006), Laurence and Temeraire travel to China, to discover Temeraire’s origins, and step into intrigue at the Emperor’s court. Black Powder War (2006) takes them to Istanbul to bring three precious dragon eggs back to Britain.

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In Empire of Ivory (2007) an epidemic strikes the dragon population, and Laurence and Temeraire travel to Africa in search of a cure. Victory of Eagles (2008) brings new troubles all around: Laurence has been convicted of treason, he and Temeraire have been separated, and Napoleon has invaded England.

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Tongues of Serpents (2010) sees Temeraire and Laurence transported to Australia, taking with them three dragon eggs intended to establish a new dragon covert in the colony. There they meet the recently overthrown military governor, William Bligh, who tries to enlist their help in restoring himself to office. A survey expedition into the outback brings more surprises.

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In Crucible of Gold (2012), Laurence and Temeraire are restored to their positions in the Aerial Corps and sent on a mission to Brazil, where the Portuguese rulers have been besieged by invaders from Africa. On the way they find themselves in the midst of danger in the Incan Empire.

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Blood of Tyrants (2013) finds Laurence shipwrecked in Japan, with no memory of the last few years, while Temeraire searches for him. Reunited, they travel west to Moscow, where Napoleon has turned on the Tsar, his former ally. The last volume, League of Dragons league-of-dragons(2016) wraps up the long war and the many other story lines.

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Such a brief listing can’t possibly convey the joys of this series. The alternate history is detailed and believable (well, dragons, sure) and the culture of the Aerial Corps is fascinating (there are some breeds of dragons who will only accept female captains).

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Most of all, though, I love the characters, the dragons even more than the humans. Laurence is very much the British officer and gentleman, concerned above all with honor and duty. Temeraire is practical, concerned with everyday matters—and with the condition of dragons as they strive to be accepted as partners and fellow citizens rather than possessions or slaves.

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The dragon characters’ personalities vary as much as the humans, as do their lives in various parts of the world. The cultures of the dragons and their relations with humans vary from place to place, and there are “feral” dragons who owe allegiance to no one but themselves.

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The quality of Novik’s writing is always excellent; the plots vary a bit, one or two reading more like filler than novel. But the characters and the exploration of an alternate history so fascinatingly different from our own never failed me. League of Dragons answered all the questions I had and brought the story full circle. I may just have to find time to read the whole series again one of these years.

Three SFF Novels

I’ve fallen way behind on quick reviews, but I’m trying to catch up. Here are three favorite SFF novels from last year.

The MartianI avoided reading The Martian, by Andy Weir, for a long time for fear it would be depressing. An astronaut abandoned alone on Mars with limited supplies and no hope of rescue? Hey, I’ve read some pretty depressing science fiction in my time. Unlike romance, SF doesn’t come with the guarantee of a happy ending. But after a couple of friends recommended it, I picked up a copy.

And I loved it. Mark Watney, the protagonist and narrator (through his log entries), is a wonderful character, optimistic, determined, and endlessly ingenious. His specialty in botany comes in surprisingly handy on the dead red planet, and (since astronauts always have more than one specialty) being a mechanical engineer and general fix-it guy is even handier.

Although Mark and his adventures (if it can go wrong, it does, of course, but that’s just another challenge to Mark) hold center stage through the novel, we also, in due time, meet the earthbound NASA folks struggling to rescue him, as well as the crew of the Ares 3, now on their way back to Earth without him.

Draw your own conclusions from the fact that I enjoyed this book (and marveled at the author’s scientific knowledge and research) right down to (and including) the last page. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, too, but they had to leave out a lot, of course. If you liked the movie, read the book, too.

 

Voyage of the Basilisk is Marie Brennan’s third Memoir by Lady Trent. I love this series, at least in part because Brennan and I share a background in anthropology, archeology, and folklore, which she puts Voyage of the Basiliskto wonderful and detailed use in constructing Isabella Camherst’s pseudo-Victorian world. In this volume, set several years after The Tropic of Serpents, Isabella sets off with her colleague Tom Wilker, her son Jake (now nine years old), and Jake’s governess aboard the research and trading ship Basilisk in search of new dragons to investigate and record.

Along the way, Isabella and her friends meet sea serpents, fire-lizards, dragon-turtles, and even a very angry Komodo dragon, are expelled from one territory and shipwrecked in another, and make some new discoveries about dragon bone and fire stone. Isabella includes in this memoir a good many things she did not send home to the Winfield Courier (one of the sponsors of her expedition), including her friendship with an attractive Akhian archeologist who joins her party.

Voyage of the Basilisk answers some questions and raises new ones. The next volume, In the Labyrinth of the Drakes, will be out (and on my doorstep) on April 5.

 

Naomi Novik’s Crucible of Gold is the seventh installement in the saga of the Napoleonic Wars and Dragons, another series I love. While Marie Brennan’s dragons are wild animals of interest to her naturalist heroine, Novik’s dragons are intelligent and participate in society in a wide variety of ways.

Crucible of GoldTemeraire and his captain, Will Laurence, are respectively the dragon and human protagonists of Novik’s series, and this volume finds them pulled out of retirement and disgrace in Australia and sent to aid the Portuguese Royal Family, besieged in Brazil by African and French forces. Most of the novel follows their journey across the Pacific and South America, meeting one disaster after another. The book felt a bit like a long transition between book six (Tongues of Serpents) and book eight (Blood of Tyrants), but the writing is so good and the dragons so charming that I didn’t mind. Temeraire continues to refine his view of dragon/human relations as he meets new species and cultures, and the alternate history becomes more and more complex (the Inca Empire holds more than a few surprises). The ninth (and last) Temeraire novel (League of Dragons) will be waiting for me on June 14.

Science Fiction for Romance Lovers

Romance lovers, I think, tend to be more interested in reading about people than about technology, which may lead some of us to shy away from science fiction.  Not me–I’ve been a science fiction fan far longer than I’ve been reading romance.  Many science fiction authors write as much about people and their relationships as they do about spaceships, computers, and laser cannon.

I’m not talking about Science Fiction Romance, which deserves another post to itself, but about writers who identify solidly with science fiction.  It won’t surprise you to hear that the five authors I’d like to recommend are women.  I readily confess that I don’t have nearly as much time to read as I did years ago, so I’m undoubtedly missing some newer writers.

DragonflightI fell in love with Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern series when the first novel, Dragonflight, came out in 1968.  In fact, I wore my paperback copies of the first novels out and splurged to replace them with hardbacks (still on my shelf) when they were reprinted.  Pern is a Lost Colony, and the books cover centuries of its history, including the romantic entanglements of its inhabitants, both human and dragon.  Yes, of course, dragons–not shapeshifters, but telepathically bonded to their human riders (causing interesting complications when the dragons mate) and the essential factor in the survival of civilization.  The novels were not written in internal chronological order–I’d suggest starting with Dragonflight.

McCaffrey also wrote several other series, some with collaborators.  The Freedom’s Landing series is my favorite of the others, but they all tend to feature romantic subplots.  McCaffrey’s son Todd inherited Pern at her death and has continued the series.

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover is another Lost Colony, although in the later installments in this long series the Rediscovery by the Terran Empire adds new layers of conflict.  The paranormal element in this series is the telepathic power with which the ruling class maintains its position, and the many novels follow the relationships and fortunes of several families.  The series ranges from short novels written as paperback originals in the late 1950s to complex trilogies written in the 1990s.  After Bradley’s death in 1999, her collaborator Deborah Ross has continued the chronicles of Darkover.  (Jo Walton has written an interesting assessment of the Darkover series, “‘Culture clash on the borders of genres.”)

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series often does involve space ships, scattered as it is over a wide-spread human civilization, but it centers on the adventures, romantic and other wise, of Miles Vorkosigan and his family.  Shards of Honor and Barrayar include the courtship of Miles’ parents, who meet as officers on opposite sides of an interplanetary war, while in A Civil Campaign we find Miles himself finally ready to settle down and court a charming young widow.  There’s plenty of action, both military and interpersonal, in the rest of the series.  Bujold also writes award-winning fantasy.

While McCaffrey, Bradley and Bujold are long-standing favorites of mine, Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series is a much more recent discovery, beginning with His Majesty’s Dragon (2006).  Yes, dragons again, telepathic, intelligent, and Temerairebonded with their partners.  But this is an alternate history series, in which His Majesty’s Aerial Corps fights the Napoleonic Wars on board enormous dragons, led by Temeraire, the rare black dragon, and his pilot Captain Will Laurence, who was perfectly happy as a Naval officer until the dragon’s egg he was transporting hatched unexpectedly.  Thanks to one species of dragon which will only bond with female pilots, there are a few women maintaining a low profile in the Aerial Corps, an interesting challenge given the early nineteenth century social structure.  I love these books.

I’m not sure how to categorize Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, but since I got the omnibus edition (there are five novels) from the Science Fiction Book Club, I’m going with it.  These novels blend the paranormal Soulless(werewolves, vampires and ghosts), alternate history, steampunk (mechanical ladybugs!), and romance (ah, that alpha werewolf).  I’ve only read the first novel, Soulless, which is definitely a romance, but my friend who carefully avoids paranormal gobbled up all five in a row.  Carriger is also writing a Young Adult series in the same world, beginning with Etiquette & Espionage, and has another steampunk series in the planning stages.

I have novels from all of these series on my totally-out-of-control shelves of books To Be Read, and the ones I have read remain on my keeper shelves.  But I’m always up for something new, so if you have favorite science fiction titles or authors, please share!

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