What does it mean to possess a sense of humanity? Does the idea of humanity only reside in the heart and head of forward-looking, bi-pedal, opposable thumb-owning hairless apes? In other words, what you see on the street or in the mirror everyday? Or can large intelligent talking dragons be in possession of the elusive and less and less seen idea of humanity? That question is the central, if unspoken, idea that runs through the top-notch Temeraire novels by Naomi Novik.

I have to hand it to Ms. Novik, she hit a home run with her very first novel, His Majesty’s Dragon, and then she continued to produce with the other books in the series. Temeraire falls under the category of alternative history since it involves real incidents, places and people a reader would recognize however it does go off the reservation with dragons and alterations to historical events of our world and time.

If you are unfamiliar with Temeraire here are the basics. The series begins in 1805. Napoleon is marching hither and yon on the continent, wailing on armies and nations getting in his way. The last viable option against the tyranny of the Mad Corsican is Great Britain with her oaken wall of ships of the line, her small but tough army and her brave Ariel Corps of dragons and their crews (shades of the RAF in WWII). While on patrol in the North Atlantic, Captain William Laurence of HMS Reliant overtakes and captures a French frigate that has a dragon egg on board the likes of which nobody has ever seen and is near to hatching. Capt. Laurence knows that Britain is behind the curve dragon wise so he piles on the sails in an attempt to get the egg to the Ariel Corps before it hatches. He fails and Temeraire is hatched on ship and chooses Will Laurence as his companion and handler.

From there on we are thrust into the adventures shared by these two friends and warriors. Their adventures, through the books, take them to Africa, China, Turkey, Australia and points in between. The books are chock full of sea, air and land battles, some famous like the Nile, Trafalgar and Jena and some entirely made up like the Battle of Shoeburyness (which is more or less a version of Waterloo but set in England.) There is high adventure and political intrigue galore. The books are as a fun read as you can find. On that level the series is a smashing success. The true genius of the Temeraire books is that it doesn’t just stay on the action adventure level but goes to a whole other level dealing with some important ideas like what humanity is, the true meaning of liberty, freedom of choice and a dozen other heady ideas like the abolition of slavery and the role of women in combat.

Novik, to her credit, worked hard on the dragon concept for the books. She figured out different breeds for each nation, how they operate in combat, how nations deal with dragons and then she gave each individual dragon a personality of their own. I noticed that the dragons tend to take on aspects of their handlers. The Dragons possess varied levels of intelligence and capabilities.

The foundation of Novik’s series is the relationship between Will Laurence and Temeraire. There is a palpable feeling of mutual love and respect that is evident in the series and it evolves in a natural and logical manner during the course of the books. It’s that love and respect and the fundamental decency of both Laurence and Temeraire that make them chose a course of action in book 4 that has major league repercussions for both Laurence, Temeraire and the readers of the series.

The way Novik structured her stories is interesting. The first two books primarily deal with Temeraire. It’s about his acquisition, hatching, his early life with Laurence on the Reliant, his training and first combat. Book two deals with Temeraire’s return to China. Temeraire is a breed known as a Celestial, the rarest breed on earth. There are only a handful of them and they are companions to the Royal Family of China. Temeraire was sent away before he hatched due to dynastic politics and the eternal struggle of China about looking inward or joining the world and was brought back to China for the same reasons. Book 3 was the change of focus book, more of a pure adventure story about the overland return to England via Turkey in order to retrieve a very special dragon egg promised to England by the Ottoman Empire. This is also where the focus of the book begins to change and Will Laurence moves to the forefront. The next two books deal with Laurence and why he is the way he is and why he made the personally devastating choice he made.

The last and best thing about the books I’ll get into are the side characters like the other dragons and captains, the crewman, the bad guys, the historical figures like Lord Nelson and the pre and post Duke of Wellington. All these characters are well written and interesting and add much realism to the books since they are all fully realized characters that you either like or hate. To me when you react strongly to characters in books, both good and bad, that is a sign of outstanding writing which this series has in spades.

Without any reservations whatsoever I recommend the living hell out of this series. If you just want to be entertained while reading, you will be. If you like your fantasy books laced with some rather deep philosophical ideas that don’t inhibit the fun and adventure elements, this is the book for you. Lastly if you like alternative type history books you will like the Temeraire series.


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About Xiphos0311

Sporadic genius but mostly IDGAF.

27 responses to “THE TEMERAIRE SERIES”

  1. Xiphos0311 says :

    I need to make a bunch of apologies here because this post sucks.

    Naomi Novik. I am sorry I was not able to adequately convey just how great your books are. I failed in that mission and I apologize.

    Therewolf. I said I would publish this like 2 weeks ago but I had a hard time writing this and missed my original publication date. I’m sorry.

    To anybody that reads this I’m sorry it sucks hairy goats balls. I did ten different versions and they all sucked. So this one is an amalgamation of almost all the previous failed reviews I did. So this is in essence a massive fail review. I am sorry for that.

  2. Tom_Bando says :

    Hey Xiphos=this isn’t all that bad. Heck I’ve not read this and it piqued my interest(some). How do they portray Napoleon in here? and does he ride a Clouseau dragon?

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      Napoleon is portrayed as he was smart, tough, aggressive, charismatic and dangerous. He ends up with a dragon that was a key villian in book 2 and she is dangerous as all creation. She is really the one that cracked the riddle that was England and was responsible for landing his legions on the island.

  3. Continentalop says :

    Hey never read these books but I have question: does the US of A have dragons?

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      Yep the Americas have Dragons and the Indians control them but don’t really use them for much. The Seneca confederation is starting to use them as way to make money by freighting supplies westward. You learn that in book six.

      In earlier books you learn that Indians only have one rider per dragon and that an Indian dragon is the catalist for Will Laurence’s down fall in book 4 and 5

  4. Droid says :

    Nice write up, Xi. While I’ve never really been big on fantasy type books this does sound pretty interesting. Might give it a shot some time.

    PS. Not sure why you’re beating yourself up over the review. I thought it was good.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      Except for the dragon part Droid the books aren’t really fantasy it’s more alternative history. Since the Dragons are presented as a part of that world they don’t seem out of place so the books don’t feel fantastical.

  5. just pillow talk says :

    I’ve been meaning to tackle this series after hearing about it a few years back, hell maybe even mentioned by you Xi.

    Hmmm…maybe I’ll order them from amazon as a Christmas gift for myself.

    • just pillow talk says :

      I’ve ordered the first five. Amazon doesn’t have the sixth one in paperback yet, so I’ll hold off on that one…

      • Droid says :

        That’s the way. Don’t test the water with just the first one. You’ve shown impressive commitment, young padawan. May the force be with you.

      • just pillow talk says :

        I tend to like fantasy books anyway, the concept sounds pretty interesting, so yeah, a certain amount of faith is being taken.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        Pillow you are in for some good reading. book six 6 just came out like 6 weeks or so ago. Book six is like book 3 where it flips the script again and removes Laurence and Temeraire from the civilized world and sends them to Australia.

        The other thing I forgot to mention was that there is a definite end point to the series so they feel like they are moving towards something. Novik said that there will 9-10 books in total.

  6. Frank Marmoset says :

    Back when I was writing those early John Carpenter reviews, I felt they were pretty much all crap. It’s hard to do justice in a review to something you really like, I think. So I know where you’re coming from, Xiphos.

    That said, you have nothing to worry about. This is a good review. You even made me curious about a dragon book, and I don’t normally have any interest in that kind of thing.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      Thanks Franklin.

      It’s not really a book about dragons so much as a book about two friends and war. I stopped thinking of the dragons as dragons, they just seemed like Englishmen(that is the English dragons) fighting Napoleon.

  7. Jarv says :

    This is a good review, and has totally inspired me to go and get the first one.

    Cheers Xi

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      Thanks Jarv.

      I believe you like the first book well enough to tackle the rest. They are very well written, surprisingly so, given the subject.

  8. redfishybluefishy says :

    Not a bad review at all, Xi. I know it’s tough to review books you love without giving away too much.

    Thank you for reminding me of these books the other week. I am half through book three now and LOVING IT.

    “Like Master and Commander with Dragons”, you said. Too true.

    This series has it all. Full of adventure, noble of spirit, lush in story and character. Highly recommended.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      Thank you very much Fishy.

      Book three introduces my favorite character not named Laurence or Temeraire or a dragon. I really like Tharkay he’s interesting.

      I agree 100% with the last paragraph. It’s better and more concise then anything I scribbled.

      • redfishybluefishy says :

        Yeah, Tharkay is a curious fellow. I quite like him myself and hoping he shows up in other books.

        And I’m loving the dragons. Their personalities are more vibrant than most of the human characters.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        Tharky become a main character which is welcomed turn of events.

        I agree the dragons are very alive. Some of my favorite exchanges in the book are between dragons and humans like Berkley and Maximus. Berkly always calling him a great lummox make me laugh.

        The other laugh out loud exchanges come between Laurence and Emily Roland. Laurence is flummoxed by her becasue of his noble upbringing and belief in a different role for women then combat.

        Then there is the downside in book 1 with what happen with Levitas and Rankin. first there was how shabby and cruel he was toward Levitas and how callous he was after Levitas heroism. Laurence was much to gentle on Rankin but at least Laurence gave Levitas some nice moments.

        Unfortunately Rankin shows up again in book 6.

    • redfishybluefishy says :

      i’ve started book 4 now. I’m plowing through them so fast they’re so great!

      Iskierka cracks me up. Berkeley and Maximus are a great pairing and a source of endless entertainment. Rankin is repulsive and I am dreading his return. He should be eaten by his own dragon, if you ask me.

      I am enjoying the confusion Laurence feels with the women riders both young and old. I find it all so curiously presented because within the moment there are characters on both sides of the line and Laurence in the middle… the aviators who don’t think anything of it at all, most everyone else (in England, anyhoo) who can’t even imagine the idea, and then Laurence who is adjusting, but still entertains long trained ideas of what women should and shouldn’t do.

      Along with the thread of nobility and duty these books tackle, political, humanitarian, social, and cultural issues, with fervor, for both human and dragon kind. And all the while doing this, Novik is telling a great and adventurous story.

      Umm, as you can tell, I am quite impressed with these books. Again I thank you for reminding me of them. They were on my radar before, but I had forgotten.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        If Iserkia cracks you up wait till she get’s her full size and bedevils the hell out of Temeraire.

        Dealing with the place of women in Victorian society is one of more fascinating aspects of the book since they have to hide the fact the only dragon with offensive capabilities that Britain has will only take women captains.

  9. ThereWolf says :

    Relax, Xi, the review is fine and dandy. Nay need for the personal apology either – I knew you’d get around to it, been looking forward to it.

    You already sold the series with ‘Master & Commander with dragons’ a bit back so I didn’t need any more convincing. And now with more detail to go on – sounds excellent.

    I’m into ‘I, Lucifer’ right now. ‘Fragment’ after that, then Sagan’s ‘Demon Haunted World’. Then I’ll get the first Temeraire! Of course, at the speed I read, that might be awhile. And I only tend to read on the bus to and from work…

    Nice one.

  10. LB says :

    Yup, reviewing things you like, and that have little to no press is the hardest review to pull off-and this one is quite well done.

    I’m starting to squint at some of the talkbacks-no need to justify by explaining all that much about thew twists and turns.

    Good Job!

  11. just pillow talk says :

    Xi, so I finished the first book over the weekend and started the second. I will slightly disagree with you (for the first book) and say the supporting characters haven’t been fleshed out enough yet. I realize the stars of the series will be front and center, but I think the other characters haven’t been given their just due yet. I just think Granby for one, should have been fleshed out more in the first book. Laurence after all, as to have utmost confidence that he can handle the crew, preparations, etc, so I would have thought maybe that relationship could have been built up a bit more so far.

    But they are an easy read and enjoyable, so I am eager to see what China has in store for them now that they are about to set off…

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