Until early last year when I read and loved Uprooted, also written by Novik, I’d only been mildly interested in reading this series. The synopsis didn’t sound all that interesting to me, and I’d seen mixed reviews for it on my feed. Even after enjoying Uprooted so much, I wasn’t sure if that would have much bearing on things since this series was written many years earlier and has a completely different type of story. I enjoyed this book far more than I had expected or hoped. It caught my interest in the very beginning and held it straight through to the end.
The story is set in an alternate version of our Napoleonic Wars, where dragons are used in battle, told from the perspective of characters on the British side. That premise didn’t sound very interesting to me, but Novik writes characters and camaraderie very well and she also writes action scenes well. Contrary to my fears, the book was much more than just a string of battles. In fact, the bulk of the action doesn’t really start until over halfway through. The first half is more about setting the stage, introducing the reader to the characters and to how things work. I enjoyed both halves equally. This book doesn’t really have any sort of cliff hanger at all. It would work perfectly well as a standalone, but I definitely plan to head straight into the next book.
The story centers around two characters, the human Laurence and his dragon Temeraire. Laurence is a captain in the British Navy and has never remotely considered joining the Aerial Corps as a dragon handler, but his life takes a surprising turn at the beginning of the book. Conveniently, we get to learn about how everything works through his inexperienced eyes, and I really enjoyed that part. Laurence and Temeraire are both great characters, and I also liked several of the secondary characters although we didn’t get to know them quite as well. Laurence is a bit stiff and duty-bound, but I really liked him and found him easy to root for. He usually made rational decisions, and he tried to do things for the right reasons.
The language that Novik used worked well for me also. Keeping in mind that I am not remotely an expert on the classics, nor a history buff, the language in the book seemed to have enough archaic terms and phrasings to feel authentic to me, and I didn’t notice any major anachronisms. If I have one complaint, and it’s really a minor one, it would be that the book really doesn’t give much of a view of life outside of the military environment. It also would have been interesting to see things from the perspective of other countries. I’m not sure how that really would have fit into this story though, and it was entertaining as it was. Maybe some of the later books will expand the setting a little bit.
There seem to be a lot of people I’m following who are reading this series right now. To those people, I apologize in advance because I’m going to ignore any future posts about the series while I’m reading it, unless the post is for one of the books I’ve already read. Once I’m familiar with the characters and setting of a series, I find it much too easy to extrapolate future events based on even vague comments, so I plan to play it safe. As usual, I’ll be going back to read reviews from people I follow after I finish each book, even the reviews I’ve already seen previously.