Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Del Rey (March 28, 2006)
I can just imagine the pitch for this one: "it's Pern meets Master and Commander". And I saw a hardback with the recommendation "Like Susanna Clarke meets Patrick O'Brien".
I mentioned a review or two back that I'd bought two books last time I was outbound from Charlotte. This was the other, and much, much better than the Hamilton one. This is a deliciously silly idea, carried through with skill and seriousness.
The novel opens during the Napoleonic War, with our hero, Will Laurence, Captain of the frigate Reliance, meeting and capturing a French ship. On board the prize, he discovers an unexpected cargo - a dragon's egg, which is frightfully rare and valuable. But there is a problem - the egg is about to hatch, so the resulting dragonlet will have to be 'impressed' (if we may borrow McCaffrey's term for it). Guess who ends up changing career.
So, we have dragonriders and sailing ships, a fine combination. But these dragons aren't the small single-seat creatures of Pern - no, these can carry great weights, with whole crews of riflemen aboard, and the ability, if unhindered, to scour a ship from one end to the other. The resulting effect on classic naval tactics is interesting, but quite well thought out - a dragon on its own isn't going to want to descend into a hail of musket fire, and there are usually defending dragons too, as WWII bomber squadrons had their escort fighters.
The character of the dragon, Temeraire (our Will couldn't think of a name, OK?), is nicely drawn. He may have come out of the shell fully fluent, but he's still very, very young. At the same time, he's a vital war resource — there aren't very many dragons around, so each is worth more than a fully crewed fighting ship — so he's thrown into war far earlier than the most callow cabinboy. The history is close to ours, but not exactly. Admiral Nelson fights Trafalgar, but the results aren't quite the same. In the end, it's hard and bloody fighting by Will and Temeraire, and the other dragons and crews, that is what saves England for the moment.
Definitely a keeper - and I'm looking out for the sequel, Throne of Jade