Apr 26 2006
Dear Ms. Novik:
This really is a series for the ages. I believe that this trilogy will make every best fantasy list out there. The things that I like best are learning about the dragons themselves and seeing the interaction between Temeraire and Laurence. The things I like least are the battle scenes. I got a tiny bit tired of the fight scenes, but that is clearly a personal preference. I wished for more Temeraire and Laurence reading, interacting and loving one another and less Temeraire and Laurence in battle but I am a romance reader. Those would be the things I would like the best!
The opening chapter begins with Laurence being called to leave Temeraire by Lord Barharm, a diplomat. The Chinese are in Britian and they want their Celestial back. Britain is fearful of the Chinese’s relationship with the French (evidenced by the gift of such an amazing dragon egg) and is pressuring Laurence to lie to Temeraire and to leave him. Laurence refuses to do so in a dramatic scene. The Chinese delegation headed by Younxing, brother of the Emperor of China, is disgusted by the British treatment of dragons, specifically Temeraire. As a Celestial, he is not a war beast. He is a rare creature to be pampered and feted. His goals are to be scholarly in nature. The Chinese wish to return to China with Temeraire but Temeraire refuses to leave Laurence.
The story then takes us on a sea voyage from Britain to China. This book is split into thirds and it was toward the end of the second part that my attention started drifting despite all that was going on. There are battles with the French, sea creatures, and shipboard illnesses. There is tension between the aviator crew and the ship’s crew. There was Temeraire’s disgust over the slave trade when they stopped for supplies in the Cape and his challenge to Laurence that the dragons had no better status than slaves, only treated better because they were feared. Laurence, a product of his time, dislikes the slave trade but has a hard time seeing the similarities initially.
The action picked up quite a bit when the group arrived in China. Over the sea voyage, Younxing would talk with Temeraire, tell him about the dragons in China, read him poetry written by dragons, challenging Temeraire’s intellect and love of learning. Laurence, admittedly no scholar, becomes uneasy about the interest that Temeraire is showing in the Chinese culture. When they arrive in China, this concern becomes magnified for the dragons and the Chinese live harmoniously together. The whole city is created so that dragons can meander down the paths of the city alongside humans. Why would Temeraire not want to be here where dragons are feted, where they can walk unmolested and unharnessed. Where they may buy cows and jewels and what ever else they fancy. To me, this was the true conflict and the one that kept me turning the pages. Would Temeraire be seduced by freedom?
I thought the characterization of the Chinese was extremely well done. First, you named everyone correctly. I remember reading a book about a Chinese character who had a multisyballic name. I wanted to just scream at the inaccuracy of it. The Chinese and Korean names have (generally), at most, two syllables (two characters) and the characters are generally monosyballic. Japanese names often have more than two syllables. Of course, I don’t need to tell you this but I do appreciate the naming of all the characters appropriately. It lends loads of authenticity to the story.
The slave trade was shown to be brutal and cruel without being overly preachy. You showed the British imperialistic mind set with just a toss of a head. One character mentioned off hand that a colony in Africa had just been acquired by the British so that there would be a port for the ship to stop. There were little details that make the book just shine in its realism from the celebration the sailors held when the equator was crossed to the multi course meals served for the New Year celebration by the Chinese.
I don’t really have anything negative other than the one point in the story where it began to drag for me. I was tired of the sea voyage, I guess, and glad to be in China. I wanted more Temeraire and Laurence interaction. Yet, I certainly cannot wait for the last installment in this series. I see that Temeraire and Laurence have made a fierce enemy and a reckoning must come. B+ for you.