Crucible of Gold: A Brief Appreciation
I have just finished reading, and very much enjoying, the seventh of Naomi Novik's Temeraire novels. For those not familiar with them, they are the latest books in the genre invented by Captain Marryat in the 19th century and better known from C.S. Forester's Hornblower novels and the Aubrey/Maturin novels of Patrick O'Brien. Novik's novels, like those, are set during the Napoleonic wars, and closely linked to the British navy. Her world differs from theirs in only one way, a feature that her predecessors neglected to include.
In His Majesty's Dragon, the first book of the series, Europe and the war are very much as they were in the real history, save that the navy includes an aerial corps made up of dragons—the biggest the size of a small ship—and their captains and crews. The dragons can speak, have about human level intelligence, but are regarded by most humans as animals and treated accordingly. Their captains, each bonded to his dragon at its hatching, mostly view the matter somewhat differently. The protagonists of the series are Captain Lawrence and Temeraire, his dragon; as their relationship develops, each becomes to the other his closest friend and companion.
One of the things I discovered when I wrote my first novel is that no plot survives contact with the characters. I suspect that Novik made the same discovery early in the series. England, at the beginning of the book, is implausibly similar to England as it actually existed, with many of the same people in it and the same Imperial enemy. As the story proceeds and the characters, and readers, see more and more of the world, it becomes less and less the world as it was and more and more the world as it would have been if humans shared it with another, larger and much longer lived species. In China we see a society where dragons and humans function on a basis of equality, in Africa and, in the latest book, South America, very different societies, in each of which the two species have come to a different, and internally plausible, relationship.
They are very good books.