I read the first book of this series at the behest of my sister, who really enjoys the series. The alternate history plot of the book is very simple: During Europe’s Napoleonic Wars era dragons are used as weapons of war. There is an Aviator division like the Navy or Army wherein riders are matched to dragons, they train them to fight aerial combats against other nations, and bonds form between dragon and rider. The dragons can speak and are as intelligent as humans, in some cases even more so since they can live for hundreds of years.
In the book an English warship commanded by Captain Laurence overtakes a French warship. Among the booty is a dragon’s egg, ready to hatch. Since the hatchling dragon must be bonded with a rider from the shell, or become wild and unrideable, Laurence and his men are forced to draw straws to see who will present themselves to the creature for bonding. Despite best laid plans, the dragon bonds with Laurence. This means an end to his Navy career and ignominious acceptance into the disreputable Aviator Corps. He names the dragon Temeraire and they form a very close emotional bond.
The book is basically broken up into three distinct and predictable acts: 1. The acquisition of the egg and the hatching and the bonding with Laurence. His subsequent personal turmoil at having to give up his captaincy and become an aviator (which he does in the most British of fashion). 2. Training camp, where Laurence collects a crew who will serve on the dragon, and where Temeraire learns how to fly, fight, and cooperate with the other dragons. 3. The plunge into battle, where both dragon and rider are tested against hostile forces.
The book is well written in regards to historical details, and the author has created a fictional back history of the dragon corps so that it reads like real history, too. Not a lot of words are wasted on ornate explanations of things regarding dragons and dragon training that make it seem like the author is trying to convince the reader that this alternate world existed. By being simple and brief, we get the feeling that this is something people who knew a little bit about the early 1800’s would already know.
I was not, however, excited about the book as a story. Laurence’s character is stiff and unyielding in his righteousness, nary making a moral misstep. Temeraire is a sweet, good-natured, intelligent, yet self-possessed dragon who thinks Laurence is just the bee’s knees. They get along without strife from Day One. The plot line was very predictable, to the point of being a pulp plot. Most of the book was kind of boring in it’s day-to-day details of training and human-dragon bonding. The few action scenes, the few fight scenes, were well done and engaging, but still lacked emotion. Laurence is a fearless hero without fault, and Temeraire is (predictably) discovered to be one of the rarest dragons in the world: A Chinese Celestial. It also turns out that such dragons are exclusively hatched for kings and emperors and that Temeraire’s egg was actually headed to France as a gift to Napoleon. All ends well for rider and dragon, Laurence more than overcomes his misgivings about being an aviator, and brings some much needed British Navy spit and polish to the ragamuffin corps. Of course, if he called one more person out because of a gentlemanly affront, I would have hoped to see his tight, upper-class ass given a good kicking.
It is unlikely in general that I will read the other books in this series. I certainly won’t read any more as part of my 52 book goal. By being kinda dull and unengaging, it took me a long time to get through it. And that puts me behind on my goal in general.
I’ve got several other books lined up to read, but they are all in the 350+ page length. That puts me in the position or reading about 15% of each book per day to complete it in a week. I believe my reading skills will come back, the more reading I do. That will make me a faster reader, and also not so prone to fall asleep while reading. That is not just the fault of the subject material, it is also a result of my eyes being out of practice in reading.