“She did not like the way he looked, and she turned her mind to the unlikely tale of dragons, picking her way around the luxurious pumpkin vines. ‘Charles, when did you see these — dragons?’
‘A dollop of dragons, a drove of dragons, a drive of dragons…'”
A Wind in the Door, Madeleine L’Engle
“Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus” / “Never tickle a sleeping dragon”
Hogwarts Coat of Arms
I was introduced to the concept of dragons by the L’Engle book when I was in my late childhood — and of course there was Smaug in “The Hobbit” — but it wasn’t until the day I met Temeraire in Naomi Novik’s books that I really fell in love with them.
Temeraire — if you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him — is a Chinese Imperial dragon, of a breed reserved only for the emperors of China. He was captured by the British while still an egg in a battle with a French ship transporting him … well, I won’t say any more right now because we don’t find out until much later who Temeraire (not only the name of a famous sailing ship, but also the nickname of the Dukes of Burgundy — ‘temeraire’ in French means ‘bold; fearless to the point of recklessness’) was meant for.
If you’re saying, “British? French? Ship? What kind of fantasy is this?” I need to explain. The Temeraire books are not fantasy, but rather alternative history. In this universe, dragons are intellgent beings who are used by the armies of the world as an Air Corps. Only the Chinese, as we find out later, see them as more than that. The books are set during the Napoleonic Wars and follow “real” history only as it suits them.
The dragons here attach themselves to a captain as soon as they are hatched. The aviators consider being bonded with a dragon to be as emotionally satisfying as marriage and the dragons — well, they regard their captains as more important than anything else. Temeraire himself nearly causes a disaster early on when he thinks that his captain, one William Lawrence, who was the captain of the British Navy vessel who captured his egg, is about to fall off Temeraire to his death.
We meet many other dragons — Temeraire’s formation mates Maximus and Lily, the sweet but not terribly bright courier Volly (“I was hatched! From an egg!), the impetuous firebreather Iskierka and the invidious Lien, among others. Novik does a great job of creating her dragons with distinct personalities, and I fell in love with Temeraire almost from the beginning.
So let’s celebrate dragons today! (And I need to remember, being of Welsh ancestry, that the dragon is our national symbol! Cymru Am Byth!)
- His Majesty’s Dragon
- Throne of Jade
- Black Powder War
- Empire of Ivory
- Victory of Eagles
- Tongues of Serpents
- Crucible of Gold (just released)