The problem with this book is how compulsively readable it is; I have so much angst about not having book three yet - and I'm only a couple pages into book two. I suspect I'll have book two read today and then I'll need, need, book three. And I was talking to someone earlier, who doesn't like fantasy or dragons, and I mentioned the other problem: Temeraire is such a likable color. Smart as a whip, strong, sympathetic - both himself, as he rages against injustices, and to the character because of all this. He's one of my all time favorite characters: human, dragon, or yeah, even robot. He's full, richly layered, and I find myself constantly surprised by him.
And I've spoken about this, but Laurence is his perfect match: they are both alike enough and different enough to work against each other. They both share rages at injustices done, they are both honest to a fault, and they are both kind and caring, especially towards each other. But whereas Laurence was brought up as the child of the high class of the time, Temeraire was not: he might have been harnessed by Laurence, but his natural curiosity trumps all else. He asks questions that might make Laurence blush, but he truly wants to know. Whereas Laurence couches his honestly behind a veil of politeness - when he feels its called for - Temeraire has no such instinct. He is practical and sees no reason not to simply speak what's on his mind. Also, Laurence is strictly bound by duty to country, but Temeraire sees his duty as simpler: to Laurence, and to his friends and allies.
Termeraire grows, even in this book, to understand duty to country, but I think he still views it quite differently than Laurence. I think they're more alike than not, with enough differences to make them not the same character, or even a template of the same character. These differences cause tension at times, but not so much that it makes them a bad pairing. I've spoken of Rocket and Groot, and how they better each other, and how they're better as characters with each other around. I think it's the same principle: they both care about doing right, or at least stopping others from destroying the universe, despite Rocket's protests that he's a self-centered jerk. They're different enough to bring both tension into the mix, and play off each other, but share much of the same values. Groot brings Rocket's kinder side to the fore, and Rocket brings out Groot's protective instincts even more. They're the perfect pair. I didn't think that this novel would bring the same level of perfect pairings between characters to the mix, but Novik managed quite well.
I've been describing this novel, quite simply, as the Napoleonic Wars with dragons. And that's a simplistic description, but also what it is. The melding of historical fiction and fantasy is perfectly balanced, however, especially since this feels very much like a, well, war. The maneuvering, the politics, the war tactics, and even the sense of the brotherhood of soldiers: it all feels very present. At the same time, the only real fantasy element is dragons: there's no other magic present, and the dragons feel very scientific. They're studied by the scientists of the time, they're bred - and cross bred - and the appendix is even selections from one of the specialists' books on dragons, written to explain the process of breeding and how to tell apart the breeds and what they can do.
The system of dragons is also rather simple and logical: they must be harnessed - which is exactly what it sounds like, put in a harness - before their first feeding or else they go feral. Temeraire was supposed to be harnessed by someone else, and he refused, choosing Laurence. Some hatchlings, depending on their level of intelligence, and who's around, may not have much of a choice; very often when they come out of the shell, the Aviators choose one person to go to be the Captain - or handler - of the dragon. Each person who harasses the dragon is a Captain, and handler simply seems to be another term for a Captain who is also an Aviator - and thus has a dragon. The dragon is loyal to its Captain, and the same tends to hold true. For the dragons with longer life spans - like Temeraire - the Aviators even have a way of dealing with getting the dragon to accept another handler.
In addition, Aviators are described as almost above the law: without the Aviators, Britain would have no dragons. The dragons take so much time and energy to handle that the Aviators have virtually no prospects of marriage, or a life amongst any kind of society. They tend to create their own little conclaves, and simply stay there, going into town for pleasure of various sorts, but never staying or living there. While The Corps - the branch of the military that is made up of Aviators - may be a brotherhood of soldiers, indeed, they've dropped the formality. They often look rumpled, due to how quickly they have to move, and the inability to pack properly. Despite the fact that they could easily be considered the strongest branch of the military, they are looked down upon by society in general.
And the fact that they are allowed to be above the law, to abandon the formalities of military life, speaks to this fact. Without giving them these liberties, the Aviators might rebel - and take their dragons with them. The British government could well manage its other branches, like the Navy, without giving their men such freedom; they cannot risk the Aviators.
And here's the real reason I didn't read this earlier. I hate war books. Fucking hate them. I flinched at scenes in this book, physically recoiling; it doesn't spare the reader from the brutality of war. But despite me really not liking - even hating - these scenes, they were necessary. War is the basis of this series. It also goes a long way to explaining how the Aviators work, and why they work that way, as well as causing friction - will someone die or not - and keeping this book from being predictable since you know everyone will survive. More importantly, it reinforces that sense of camaraderie between the soldiers.
I ended up loving this book so much, despite me being 'no' on the war elements, and despite having a hit or miss record with dragon books. I"d heard such good things, but they couldn't overcome my hesitancy to start this until now. And I've come to be obsessed in a few short days!
I love the world, the characters, that Naomi Novik has created. I especially love Temeraire and Laurence. I would mention this, however. I was bored by the very first chapter or so; it was only middling until Temeraire came into play. However, I do feel that the first scenes were important in retrospect. I also didn't realize how much of this felt like relatively normal things: chatting, reading, bathing even. So much Temaraire bathing! I didn't care. It was still fascinating because the characters were so interesting.
Love, love, love. I'm writing a couple quick reviews, then moving onto book two.