Tolkien Gestures Book 19: Temeraire

Tolkien Gestures is one Sci-Fi nerds adventure into the strange mystical worlds of Fantasy Literature. Over the course of a year I’m reading 20 Fantasy Novels spaced over the life of the genre. This week, we take to the skies over Napoleonic Europe for a change of pace.

I have been accused a couple of times now of the fact that the only Fantasy Books I really seem to like are ones that aren’t “proper” Fantasy. Which is an odd statement, really; is the genre really that narrow that if a certain background conditions aren’t met, then it’s not “proper”? I mean, A Game of Thrones is clearly “proper” Fantasy, with the pseudo-medievel setting and fictional world and magic and zombies and stuff, but Legend was a war story in Fantasy clothes, Gunslinger a Western with Magic, even The Blade Itself seems to owe more to noir than traditional fantasy. But deviate too far from that RenFaire nonesense and somehow you’re not doing it right, as if all Crime fiction had to take place in Country Houses and all SF in 22nd Century.

And the by standards of “proper”, Temeraire is being constantly misfiled by amazon.co.uk, because it’s hardly fantasy at all. For a start it is set quite firmly in 1805, in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars. It’s main character is a Naval Captain. Its pretty much a war story. Oh, and it has Dragons.

The world of Temeraire is one where Dragons exist but human history is largely the same; Dragons certainly changing things but at the same time the broad sweeps continue. England is beset by threats, only a thin naval blockage keeping the French from attacking across the channel. Our hero, a frigate captain, captures a French ship bearing a rare prize – a dragon egg – and when it hatches at sea he himself imprints the newborn, forcing him off his chosen career path and into the “Aerial Corps” of Dragonsriders.

Theres a few clever things here. First, this is not “a boy and his Dragon”; Laurence is fully adult and has a lot to lose by being roped into this flying lark as Pilots are pretty much socially ostricised and live somewhat…different lives. In fact much of the book’s fun comes from the social side as this stiff-necked Naval Officer struggles to fit in. Secondly the dragon combat setup requires full crews to ride them, and its very militarily geared, so theres less jolly adventure and a bit more of the historical military fiction beats going on. And thirdly there are lots of Dragons, with their own personalities, so whilst Temeraire is clearly “best”, as a character he has his own peers.

Even the story, although slightly routine for Historical Fiction and very recognisable to fans of say, Patrick O’Brien or C S Forester, it’s certain a long away from the usual fantasy stories, although its so engagingly told I’m not sure it would matter. The narrative is light and airy and with a good strong focus on the characters, and even the battle scenes are clear and well thought out as to how these huge beast would be used as weapons of war.

I think the only criticism I can reasonably make is that ends a touch too abruptly with a good, old-fashioned, Deus Ex Draconia, but having read on Temeraire’s tendancy to be super-best can be a hinderance to the plot as much as a help, which nulifies this concern somewhat.

I liked it so much I’ve since read the whole damn lot of them…

Next up:  The final book of TG will be The Lies of Locke Lamora, which several people have recommended. So thanks to them!

Feedback, corrections and other comments welcome either here or by email to grampus(at)dissectingworlds(dot)com or on twitter @thegrampus.

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One comment

  1. Thanks to your episode of Dissecting Worlds I picked it up and love it. money and time is all that stops me from bingeing them

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