01/07/2009. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 273 hardback. Price: $25.00 (US), $28.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-49688-1.
check out website: www.delreydigital.com
Under normal circumstances, a novel or a story that has a setting in an alternative history is regarded as Science Fiction. Somewhere in the past, an event turned out differently. One of the classics of this sub-genre is 'Bring The Jubilee' by Ward Moore, where the South won the American Civil War. In Keith Roberts' 'Pavane' stories, steam engines were invented in Elizabethan times. In these cases, the effect is caused in one time and place, usually referred to as a Jonbar Hinge. A variation of this type of novel is where it looks as if history is about to be changed and the characters are working towards keeping our time-line, as in Mary Gentle's '1610: A Sundial In A Grave' in which the death or survival of Prince Henry, the heir to the English throne will decide the future. More subtle are books such as 'A Dragon Waiting' by John M. Ford. Here the argument could be made that this is a fantasy novel as the difference is the idea that there have always been vampires in society. This is normally kept very quiet but the reason why the princes in the tower have to die is because they have been infected. To let them live would be to change history.
The big problem with Naomi Novik's 'Temeraire' series is that the dragons, of which Temeraire is one, have always been around and visible. They are very obvious, never having disappeared into myth, yet history has managed to follow the same course outlined by our history books until Napoleon decides he wants to invade Britain and make the Republic of France the biggest empire in the world. It appears that no-one before now has tried to use dragons to sway the course of a war yet suddenly, they are the most important weapon in the different faction's arsenals. The dragons, each with a captain and crew, are used as aerial battleships. Whereas the wooden warships and their armaments had evolved over centuries, the evolution of dragons does not seem to have quite the same history and certainly little effect on the affairs of human politics in Europe until the late 18th century.
'Victory Of Eagles' is the fifth in the 'Temeraire' series. Temeraire is a very large, imperial dragon. Originally sent as an egg as a present for Napoleon from the Emperor of China, the ship carrying it was intercepted by the British Navy and when the egg hatched, Will Laurence ended up becoming his captain. Although not a case of Lorenzian imprinting, dragons do get rather fond of their captains. In previous volumes, Temeraire and Laurence have visited, and found dragons in such places as China and Africa.
At the start of this novel, Temeraire has been sent to the breeding grounds and Laurence imprisoned for treason and is under sentence of death. His crime, to make sure that the French dragons got the cure for the sickness that was killing them. Now, the French forces have amassed across the Channel and are prepared for invasion. As the French march on London, it is up to Temeraire and his fellow dragons to prove not only their loyalty but also their intelligence, their ability to plan and execute military tactics. It is not just attacking the opposing forces that they must do but also consider their supplies as dragons eat a lot of fresh meat. Temeraire also has another motive, to be re-united with Laurence.
Novik is beginning to take the action out of the hands of the humans to give the dragons the limelight. As long as she doesn't make them behave in a too human fashion, this only bodes well. This new dimension is what is needed to enliven this series.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA