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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The fighting Temeraire .... dragon

Years ago, I taught English as well as biology, and had the usual trouble getting reluctant readers interested in books.  Then I talked the school into buying a class set of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight, first because it was attractive to girls (pony-owning girls, in particular), second because it was the first in a series (which hopefully would tempt the lassies into reading more), and third, because I loved the book so much myself.

It was an inspired move.  The girls loved it.  One who had been a very reluctant reader became hooked.  She used to buy the latest in the series, read it, tell me about it, and then insist on lending it to me.  She went to university and studied for an arts degree, and went in for film-making. 

So there was a success story.

For those who don't know the Pern Dragons series, it is based on a planet named Pern, where the dominant life form is a dragon genus, which includes species of small "fire lizards" and proper large dragons.  Their talents and qualities are defined by their color.  The queen, of course, is golden.  The planet is also periodically threatened by a poisonous fungus from the sky, called Thread.  Only dragons can fight thread, guided by telepathic contact with their riders.  Great, imaginative stuff.

It was probably because of this background that my attention was caught by an item in the local paper reporting that our local film guru, Sir Peter Jackson, had bought the film rights to a book about fighting dragons and their riders, called Temeraire. However, I only got around to reading it this week, and then by accident.  I was having trouble with Override, the engine for borrowing eBooks from the Wellington library service, and finally managed to download Temeraire as part of the struggle.  It was just part of the experiment, but of course I read it.

As expected, Novik is obviously inspired by McCaffrey.  For me, the dragons are very recognisable.  They could hop over to Pern any day of the week, and merge into the scenery.  Just as with Dragonflight, for the millions of girls reading Novik's books, the dragons are the ultimate flying ponies.  Temeraire himself is very attractive, though.  A charming character, very easy to love.   Heart strings are pulled.

What I didn't expect was that Novik is also obviously inspired by Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander books.  Her dragons are His Majesty's dragons, in the service of King George III, helping His Majesty's Navy to fight Napoleon. So, clever, clever, she is linking two hugely popular genres -- fantastical dragons, and the Age of Nelson.  And, what's more, the dialogue and social niceties are right out of Jane Austen.  And she does it very well indeed.

I'll be reading more.


Edwin King said...

You're mistaken Joan! You have read this before for a review and I remember you being a little critical about her knowledge of the sea (eg, they sail from England to Cape Horn down the coast of Africa rather than using the Trade Winds).

As someone who enjoyed both Pern (not just for girls!) and O'Brien I read these books, but I'm afraid I gave up after the fourth or fifth. I like the premise, but I think the author ran out of ideas (and knowledge of the period). The stories seemed to become repetitive and sillier. That might seem to be a daft thing to say about books about dragons in HM's Service, but (despite being a fan of science fiction) I like books set in a historical period to ring true to that period.

Also, I felt the characters were a little one-dimensional and weren't developing as the series progressed.

I'll be interested to see what you make of the subsequent books.

Joan Druett said...

I certainly haven't read these books before, dear Edwin, but I have decided you are telepathic, because as your comment pinged my iPad, I was reading the route proposed for the dragon carrier (at the start of the second book) with my eyebrows in my hair. That comment about the deliberately sailing down the coast of Africa is the kind of comment I would certainly have made -- the recommended ploy was to take a wide swing into the Atlantic, until the coast of Brazil was raised, and then run your easting down to the Cape of Good Hope. HOWEVER, while researching the journal kept by Eleanor Reid on the transport/East India extra ship Friendship, I found to my surprise that her husband, Hugh Reid deliberately chose to hug the African coast. This was in the Napoleonic Era, and he did it to avoid French privateers.

So Novik has a point, but I fear it is an unwitting one. I'm not sure how technically accurate fantasy should be, but I agree that it really jars when they get it blatantly wrong.

As for reading the next books, Overdrive is sending them with the chapters all out of order! Makes an interesting reading experience.

Good to hear from you, and I hope you are extremely well in sunny England. And thanks for the lively comment.