One of the best historical fantasy series to show up in recent years has been Naomi Novik's Temeraire. Full of historical details in a world that is very close to our own, set in a world where dragons are quite real, and captained by crews of humans, serve as part of aerial corps, fighting in wars.
The setting is unusual as well -- the Napoleonic Wars, and with the fifth novel and its ominous title, Victory of Eagles things are not looking too good for the British. In an appalling display of stupidity by the Admiralty, Temeraire and Laurence, his captain, have been separated after the events of the previous novel. Laurence is aboard a ship, locked up in a brig, and the threat of execution follows him everywhere. He knows that if he cooperates, that Temeraire will not be harmed, and so does his best.
And his beloved Temeraire? The Celestial dragon is off in the remote mountains of Wales, condemned to the breeding grounds while a perfectly good war is raging on. Instead he's stuck in a remote valley, with nothing but a pokey cave to live in, no books, and even though there's plenty to eat, all that there is to do is sleep and ahem, make an egg with a willing dragon.
Needless to say, Temeraire is less than pleased about the situation. And his new neighbors are not that interesting either, especially a Regal Copper that has decided that Temeraire's cave would make a very nice home for himself. And there's Gentius an ancient Longwing who is pleased to talk to Temeraire. Most of all, there are Temeraire's own thoughts, and a chance to look at the world through the dragon's eyes.
When word comes that Laurence's ship has been sunk by the French, Temeraire decides that the time has come to break free of all of the stuffy rules. After all, the British have broken their word, and he feels that there's nothing to hold him back. So in a daring maneuver, he rounds up the dragons in the breeding ground, and he will lead them into battle against Napoleon.
And Napoleon? The French emperor is on the march again, this time crossing the Channel and setting his sights on capturing London...
I won't reveal much more here, as so not to reveal any spoilers, except that there are several new characters here, as well as quite a few of the earlier ones make a return. Most interesting is the Iron Duke himself, Wellington, and even a glimpse of poor King George III. Iskierka and Granby have a prominent role, and we see the rather harried Jane Roland having to cope with military men who have not a clue about how dragons can be used in battle. The action is breakneck, along with the pacing -- very rarely does the story slow down.
One aspect that I have enjoyed very much is watching Temeraire?s evolution in the series, as he matures and grows in his abilities to both deal with people, and his own sense of justice and morality. There are times when you can feel his frustration with dealing with humans, or the confusion of why don?t they get it? It?s one aspect of Novik?s creation that she is able to breathe in new life to the rather hackneyed use of dragons. Here they are personalities, and sentient beings, with ambitions, thoughts, and emotions of their own, and sometimes they don?t always mesh neatly with those of humans.
As with the previous novels, this is definitely part of a series. For someone who wants to start reading here, I recommend that you don't -- there is so much in here that relies on the earlier novels, that it would be nearly impossible to understand the current story without going back and reading the first four books.
One thing that I wish the series had was some kind of directory to keep all of the various types of dragons straight. While the first book had some drawings and a few details, there's very little here to help visualize many of the creatures, and create a mental picture of the action and details. It's one oversight that I hope will be taken care of either in a separate volume or in future books. This is the only real disgruntlement that I've had with the series so far.
A warning however -- don't try to read this one late at night. The odds will be that you'll be up still at dawn turning pages and eagerly seeing what happens next. The ending, as with before, is a bit of a cliffhanger, and I hope is a sign that there will be more to come.
Four and a half stars, rounded up to five. Recommended.