No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

#71: Temeraire -- Naomi Novik

Advance reading copy: the novel's due for publication in January. The cover sports a quote from Stephen King, who calls it a 'cross between Susanna Clarke and Patrick O'Brian': I would actually be more inclined to cite McCaffrey than Clarke ...

The setting is the Napoleonic Wars; the world, much like ours except for the fact of dragons. There are various species, bred and managed by various nations: dragon-handlers form an elite Aerial Corps, rumoured to indulge in excessively libertine pursuits. Captain William Laurence, the protagonist of the novel, is a successful naval captain who accidentally becomes handler to a rare Oriental dragon named Temeraire -- thus ruining his maritime career, not to mention his chances of marrying Miss Edith Galman. Fortunately, there are compensations.

I haven't quite made up my mind about this novel yet. I found it very readable, extremely enjoyable, playful and (mostly) competently written, though there are some inexcusable Americanisms bandied by the author's British characters. There are some powerfully affecting passages which border on the sentimental -- but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

I think what's missing is a certain edge. There's plenty of warfare, dramatic aerial combat, etc etc; there's loss and treachery. That darker side, though, seems more backdrop than anything; a curtain of plot against which to project more personal events, which can seem trivial against Napoleonic invasion etc -- though Laurence's growth and change, as a character, is very well handled, and Temeraire is one of the most likeable and intriguing dragons I've encountered in literature. (Or, oddly enough, anywhere else.) Nevertheless, it feels slight: perhaps that's because there is room for so much more depth to the story, more background, more of a resolution. There's certainly space for continuation.

All that said, it's competently written, charming, enjoyable and inventive. Do look out for it. And don't believe Stephen King.

reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place

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