What do you get when you cross O’Brian’s Master and Commander series with McCaffrey’s Pern? Set during the Napoleonic Wars, this is an alternate Earth with an Air Force…of dragons and their riders.
As the book begins, the HMS Reliant captures a French frigate; the French crew battle ferociously despite being obviously ill and malnourished–not surprisingly given their ship is carrying a dragon’s egg about to hatch (we find out later it is a gift from the Chinese court to Bonaparte himself) Protocol dictates that the Navy ship promptly hands this treasure over to the Air Corps1, but the Reliant cannot make landfall before the egg hatches. None of the crew have training in dragon handling and little idea of what one does with a hatchling; all they know is that the dragon indicates whom it will accept as rider by conversing with him or her. The crew draws lots for who will attempt this, but unfortunately the dragon will have only the captain, William Laurence. Laurence hastily hands over command of the ship to his senior officer and proceeds to do what he can with the dragonet, whom he names Temeraire. He transfers to the Air Corps, much to the chagrin of his family and compatriots as this is regarded as something of a slovenly slapdash branch of the military, and the remainder of the book consists largely of Temeraire’s training and entry into battle. This is somewhat awkward for both man and dragon; he because he’s significantly older than the other trainees and it because the Chinese Imperial is not a type found in Europe and no one knows what its powers will be once grown.
I haven’t read the subsequent books–I understand we find out more about Temeraire’s background–though this was enjoyable enough. Who might like it? pretty much anyone who likes fantasy about dragons that doesn’t require too much thought or analysis, though I’m inclined to suggest it to people who shy away from gooey icky relationships-based fantasy. The series is intended for adults, but there’s nothing in it unsuitable for sensible teen and tween readers: relationships of a mature nature exist but the author no more than hints at what precisely they DO with one another and there’s minimal violence for a book about aerial military battles. As for nitpickers: please keep in mind that dragons do not exist in our world. We can’t possibly know what their air speed is, their endurance or aerodynamics, weight carrying capacity or anything of that sort.
1the equivalent of the RAF