Welcome to another helping of Cover Love. This week I’m featuring some of Naomi Novik’s covers, in honour of her recent release of A Deadly Education – Book 1 of The Scholomance series. If you are interested in reading reviews of some of her books: – Victory of Eagles – Book 5 of the Temeraire series, Tongues of Serpents – Book 6 of the Temeraire series, Crucible of Gold – Book 7 of the Temeraire series, Blood of Tyrants – Book 8 of the Temeraire series, League of Dragons – Book 9 of the Temeraire series, Uprooted, and Spinning Silver. Which ones do you particularly like?
I’ve read one or three fantasy books in my time and decided to give a quick roundup of my favourite dragons. I happen to have a really soft spot for these critters and am always fascinated how different authors approach them. So, in no particular order…
Tintaglia from The Realm of the Elderlings series by Robin Hobb
I love this superbly arrogant blue dragon and the whole backstory of how the dragons come back into being, starting with the Live Ship Traders trilogy and then continuing through the Rain Wilds Chronicles quartet. I’m not in the business of giving spoilers, so I won’t say too much more. But if you have a weakness for dragons and enjoy a really intelligent, nuanced world featuring them, then consider reading Hobb’s books.
Ruth from the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey
This clever blend of science fiction and fantasy features dragons used in the fight against Thread, a terrible alien infestation that periodically threatens to wipe out the colonists. The alliance between riders and dragons is very close and a number of dragons are featured throughout the series, but the little white, Ruth, stole my heart. This classic series has stood the test of time and is highly recommended for anyone who has not yet encountered it.
Toothless from the How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
Yes, I know these are children’s books. Yes, I know you’ve probably seen the films. But if you have, don’t go away with the idea that Cowell’s version of Toothless is remotely like the cool, sensible creature depicted in the films. Toothless in the books is snarky and disobedient, only coming to Hiccup’s rescue when their lives depend upon it. Indeed, the relationship between the Viking youngsters and the dragons in the books is far more nuanced and chaotically funny than the rather tepid versions depicted in the films. Reading sessions of these books with grandchildren regularly descend into giggles.
Temeraire from the series by Naomi Novik
This alternate historical series is starts off during the Napoleonic Wars, where dragons are used as men of war by both the English and French. Temeraire is a dragon that hatches prematurely so that his rider and lifelong companion is William Laurence, a Royal Navy captain. Novik has moved the story arc on, having her intrepid duo ranging all over the globe during their enjoyable, well written adventures.
The Blessed Penn from Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
This marvellous gem from Walton, which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2004, is set in a world not dissimilar to Anthony Trollop’s Framley Parsonage. But you don’t need to have read Trollop’s book to appreciate Tooth and Claw, which inserts dragons and their need for meat and ambition into a world bounded by Victorian sensibilities. It is wonderfully observed, full of delightfully witty touches and one of my most memorable reads.
Other strong contenders – I love Gralen from White Mountain by Sophie E. Tallis, whose strong, outspoken character provides some delightful moments in this enjoyable epic fantasy read. I also really enjoy Jack from The Future Falls, Book 3 of The Enchantment Emporium series by Tanya Huff – though I am cheating a little here, because he is somewhere between a dragon and a person. The other dragon series worthy of mention is Stephen Deas’ riveting, if disturbing series The Memory of Flames, where the rather unpleasant humans have been subduing the dragons by magical means…
What about your favourite dragons in literature? Who have I left off this list that has you wincing in disgust? I’d love to hear from you!
If you enjoy alternative histories and have a weakness of dragons of any size and shape – then this is a must-read series. Novik revisits the Napoleonic era, with its wars and resulting widespread social dislocation – but also includes into the mix dragons that are bonded to humans from the moment they hatch, and then trained to become part of the French and English fighting machine.
The main protagonists in her series include a rare, highly prized Celestial dragon, called Temeraire, who was snatched from a French ship as an egg. His handler, Laurence, was destined for a distinguished naval career – until he accidentally happened to be present when Temeraire hatched and was chosen by the dragon to be his companion. Together they have experienced a variety of adventures in different surroundings with plenty of fighting – both set-piece battles and skirmishes – and both characters have become ever closer and more aware of each other. In this fifth book, Novik does it again. She gives her fans yet another completely different twist to the ongoing tale – a feat not always successfully achieved by multi-book authors.
It is a bleak time for Temeraire. Banished to the breeding grounds from active military service and constantly missing his human companion, Laurence, he finally begins to count the cost of his decision to help the French dragons. While his captain, Will Laurence, has been condemned to hang for treason. However, their fates pale into insignificance against the desperate conditions that Britain now faces. As Napoleon’s forces breach the Channel defences and invade southern England, it is clear that Napoleon intends to occupy London. So when Temeraire and Laurence once more serve King and Country, it is in the knowledge that their support is only tolerated – and that in certain quarters they are held indirectly responsible for the whole mess, anyhow…
As the story rolls over almost without a break from the previous books, I recommend that you read them all before embarking on this latest volume, which will be a joy if you haven’t yet encountered this very popular series.
While not as high-flown or wordy, Novik does nod in the direction of the more effusive manner of the 18th century style of writing. I am aware that this has hampered the enjoyment of at least one would-be fan, but I personally find the style eminently in keeping with atmosphere Novik has engendered. And as I was brought up on such staples as Pilgrim’s Progress, Jane Eyre and The Children of the New Forest, it wasn’t going to bother me, anyway. However, I give it a mention so that those among you who like your prose pared to the bone will know what to expect.
In amongst the swash-buckling action, Novik has some interesting themes running through her work. Temeraire, as a Celestial dragon, is highly intelligent and capable of fluently speaking a number of languages, reading and writing. However, he is officially regarded as a piece of military equipment by the English authorities, who are much slower than Napoleon or the Chinese to give their dragons any kind of special consideration. Novik interweaves this strand with the anti-slavery arguments of the day – with Temeraire discussing the issue with Wilberforce. Along with Napoleon, both Nelson and Wellington pop up in this book. While this historical time isn’t my speciality, my husband, who’s a military history enthusiast reckons that Novik has done a particularly good job on Wellington. In my humble opinion, she’s done a particularly good job on this outstanding book in a fine series.