Temeraire (series)

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U.K. paperback edition cover of Throne of Jade
U.K. paperback edition cover of Black Powder War

Temeraire is a series of nine alternate history novels written by American author Naomi Novik. The novels follow the adventures of Captain William Laurence and his dragon, the eponymous Temeraire. The series consist of both fantasy and alternate history: they are "a reimagining of the epic events of the Napoleonic Wars with an air force—an air force of dragons, manned by crews of aviators".[1] The first book, His Majesty's Dragon, won the 2007 Compton Crook Award in the (science fiction/fantasy) genre.[2] The book was also nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2007.


Also, In His Majesty's Service is a compilation book that includes the first three books in the series, as well as the Temeraire short story "In Autumn, A White Dragon Looks Over the Wide River".[6] Golden Age and Other Stories is a collection of Temeraire short stories, and was released in August 2017.[7]


The series of books revolves around the primary characters, the dragon Temeraire and Captain William Laurence. Captain Laurence is a member of the British Royal Navy, serving in combat against Napoleon's navy when he recovers a dragon egg unlike any other known to the British. The egg soon hatches, and Temeraire, a Chinese dragon, is born. Under the impression that an "unharnessed" dragon will become feral and unmanageable, Laurence becomes Temeraire's companion. Despite the difficulties this causes, Laurence begins to think of the dragon as his dearest friend. This forces a change in the officer's life, drawing him from the prestigious Royal Navy to the less desirable Royal Aerial Corps. The subsequent novels in the original trilogy follow the adventures of Laurence and Temeraire as they do battle with the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte and the diplomatic fallout caused by Captain Laurence's adoption by the Chinese emperor. The fourth novel deals with Laurence and Temeraire seeking a cure for a contagious disease, introduced by a North American dragon, which spreads throughout the British dragons while Napoleon seeks to press his advantage.

The fifth novel is the account of Napoleon's invasion of England, forcing a British retreat to Scotland, while Laurence faces the consequences of their treason in taking the cure for the illness to the French. The sixth novel begins within the penal colony of Australia (Laurence's death sentence for treason commuted to transport to the colony), and a chase across the continent to a sudden discovery that has far-reaching consequences. The seventh book has Laurence returned to service and sent to South America in an attempt to secure an alliance with the Inca Empire (which still exists, though reduced, in the series timeline), then to Asia again. In the eighth book, Laurence is partially amnesiac due to injury as Temeraire and the crew deal with new intrigues in Japan and China before flying to Russia in time to be involved in the French invasion of Russia.

List of characters[edit]

The dragons[edit]

Dragons in the series are similar to dragons in many real-world mythologies, although they are divided into different "breeds", with differences in coloration, size, skeletal structure, etc. All (with the exception of sea serpents, which are thought to be a separate species) have wings and the ability to fly, even those that mass up to fifty tons (this is said to be partly due to their bodies' compartments of lighter-than-air gas; "weight" figures represent overall mass, and a fifty-ton dragon might show a mere ten tons on a scale). Dragons are shown to be intelligent and sapient, although the degree of their intelligence varies from sufficient to understand a few words up to being able to compose epic poetry. Dragons are typically born with the ability to speak. They learn languages while still in their eggs, and can speak any language they are sufficiently exposed to during that time fluently from birth. Throughout the series, it is stated that particularly intelligent dragons can continue to acquire languages quickly throughout their entire lives. In the wild, dragons usually have their own languages, and this is shown a number of times when "feral" dragons are encountered throughout the series. Generally, all dragons are depicted as helplessly possessive, attracted to shiny objects, property, and hoarding treasure whenever and wherever possible. This materialistic behavior also extends to people.

Within the series, domesticated dragons "bond" with a human on hatching. This process is described as typically happening when the human presents the just-hatched dragon with their first meal, usually meat, and the dragon accepts it. The Chinese, who are renowned for their dragons, are described as having a different method, however. They have another dragon take care of the hatchling and educate it until it is knowledgeable enough to choose its own companion. Both methods are said to form a strong psychological bond similar to filial imprinting seen in species of real-world birds; in some cases, this is reminiscent of an owner-pet, friend-friend, and even parent-child relationship. Dragons will do anything to prevent their companions from coming to harm. In battle, dragons can be "captured" and forced into compliance, if their aviators are held at gunpoint or in some other way threatened. Dragons are commonly jealous of the attention of their human companions.

Because of their great longevity, dragons frequently said to outlive their human partners. When this happens they may take another companion (often a relative of their lost partner), or fall into depression. If they do not care to take new companions they are often sent to live in breeding grounds, providing a comfortable, albeit mundane existence. Some dragon breeds are shown with the ability to breathe fire, or "spit" acidic venom, traits that are prized in countries where dragons are primarily thought of as military tools. The Chinese Celestial breed has a unique trait called the Divine Wind, a roar that can shatter wood, crack stone and cause hemorrhages at a short range. Other breeds throughout the series's world have a variety of unique traits such as the ability to make sharp turns (British Anglewing), the ability to ingest and spew large quantities of water (Japanese Siu Riu), or the ability to see clearly at night (French Fleur-de-Nuit).

Dragon classification by size[edit]


Dragons in this category are enormous, although size varies greatly between heavyweights of different breeds (20–50 ton weight range). The largest British heavyweight, the Regal Copper, weighs a maximum of 50 tons, can be up to 120 feet (37 m) long and have a wingspan of 180 feet (55 m). There are also unidentified breeds of dragons and cross-breeds known to be even larger, such that their size can only be described as "immense". A typical middling heavyweight Chinese Celestial/Imperials and the French Chanson-de-Guerre, both of which weigh in around 20-25  tons at a minimum. The Turkish Kazilik is the only known fire-breathing heavyweight. Heavyweight eggs are extremely valuable, often said to be more valuable than gold per pound (a Regal Copper egg is said to be worth 56,000 pounds, an enormous amount of money in the early 19th century). Kazilik eggs command incredible value, with the British paying the Ottoman Empire half a million pounds for three eggs (most of which was allocated for the Kazilik).[8] Typically heavyweights are the most long-lived of all dragons, some are known to live for hundreds of years, but by contrast, they take much longer to recover from illness or disease than middle or lightweights.

Since that size is often difficult to grasp, a better method for understanding their size is by how many humans a particular breed can carry. While the crew of a typical heavyweight might be 30 men (this includes riflemen, bellmen, officers, etc.) they can carry many times more. In the series, special harnesses covered a dragon's entire body and were outfitted with slings where men could sit for transportation. Using this method a Regal Copper could carry up to 500 men, meaning the surface area of a Regal (at least the sides and top of the main body) was the same as 500 people lying side-by-side.


Much more common than heavyweights, these dragons make up the bulk of any country's aerial forces. Middleweights range in weight from 10 tons to 20 tons. Yellow Reapers can weigh as little as 10 tons (with a maximum weight of 17 tons), making them one of the smallest middleweights. British Parnassians are said to be large middleweights, weighing around 18 tons on average, very close to the minimum weight of a heavyweight dragon. Middleweights are much more likely to show special offensive capabilities, such as spitting acidic venom (Longwings), or breathing fire (Flamme-de-Gloire) than heavyweights. Middleweights tend to be faster and more agile than heavyweights, although if lacking special abilities, they are unlikely to be able to match any heavyweight in a fight.


This group is divided between courier and light-combat dragons. Couriers are the lightest of dragons, and usually carry mail, important military messages, and royalty/VIPs. They range in weight from a mere 2 tons (Winchester), to around 5 tons (Greyling). Couriers also do work as scout dragons doing reconnaissance over enemy territory. Light-combat dragons are little larger and act as skirmishers and flank attackers against enemy formations. They range in weight from around 6 to 9 tons, with the French Pascal's Blue being a prime example of such a breed. Lightweights exhibit more excitable behavior than do other dragons of heavier weights. The Spanish possess a fire-breathing lightweight, the Flecha-del-Fuego ("Fire Arrow"), which is the rare lightweight breed that is a prime combat dragon.

Dragons in society[edit]

The societies of this world tend to view dragons differently. So far only a few cultures have been described in depth, but some clues have been given about the state of dragon–human relations in the rest of the world.

In Britain[edit]

The treatment of dragons on the British Isles seems to be indicative of the treatment they have received in the rest of Europe and the Middle East, although this may not be the case. They are treated no better than beasts of burden. Compared with China, the living conditions are generally appalling. Draconic domestication in Britain began with the arrival of the Romans, continued in a disorderly manner with the influx of Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, and continued to the present of the series. In Britain, it was held that dragons could very easily turn feral and therefore useless (to humans). To prevent this, properly trained aviator candidates needed to be present at the hatching of every egg. A newly hatched dragon would speak to the nearest person suitable for bonding. The human would then give it a name (in Britain, the names are typically chosen by schoolboys fond of grandiose Greek and Latin names). Newborn dragons would be very hungry, but it was said they would fly away immediately after feeding unless they willingly accepted a harness. If the aviator could not convince the dragon to accept the harness, it would never be "useful" to people, except possibly as broodstock.

The ceremony of bestowing a name and harnessing a dragon seems to be more of a superstitious ritual than rooted in necessity. Some dragons have been known to name themselves and still accept harness, while "feral" dragons can be induced to help humans. The elaborate naming ritual probably stems from an innate European fear of dragons. In Britain, dragons are housed in "coverts", secluded spots away from most human habitation. The general populace is terrified of dragons, whether they are feral, friendly, or part of a foreign military. In fact, many people in Britain can live their entire lives without meeting a dragon face-to-face. Because of the exclusion of the covert, aviators are looked upon as being inferior to the other branches of the military (especially because the special relation between aviator and dragon may preclude raising a family). To make matters worse, there are some corrupt individuals operating in Parliament who refuse to give dragons suffrage or other equal rights, holding dragons in poor regard and considering them a threat that should be got rid of. Dragons deemed not useful under harness (i.e. feral, depressed from the death of a partner, captured from another nation, etc.) are forcibly detained in secluded breeding grounds and used for broodstock.

In China[edit]

In China, Dragons Lung are treated very differently than their European counterparts. Instead of being treated as intelligent animals, they are venerated as beings of generally equal or occasionally higher standing than humans. Chinese dragons are not harnessed at birth. Instead, they are raised by other dragons and are treated similarly to the children of noble families. They attend school and can take the Confucian exams that may lead to positions in the civil service. After completing their schooling, they are considered able to choose a companion for themselves. They can then enter the military, messenger services, bureaucracy, etc. depending on their personal abilities and the tendencies of their breed. These dragons are then paid from the Imperial treasury, can own property, and employ servants.

At large, the citizens of China seem used to the large population of dragons that inhabit their land. Some Dragons are used as a form of mass transit. Throughout China, streets and other infrastructure are built large enough to accommodate them, and many vendors cater to their needs. While some dragons, like humans, may live in relative poverty, the majority enjoy a higher degree of autonomy and self-determination than those in Europe. Chinese aviators are traditionally female, in the tradition of a famous heroine (possibly Mulan) who once dressed as a man to join the corps.

In France[edit]

While not as fully covered as Chinese and British society in draconic relations, from observations made by Laurence and Temeraire, the dragons of France were originally treated similarly to the way they are treated in Britain. In the fourth book, it is mentioned that French society, especially in terms of the military, is beginning to treat dragons along the pattern of Chinese society, with many Parisian streets being widened for dragon use under Napoleon's orders. By the eighth book, Blood of Tyrants, the standards of the French in regards to dragon husbandry are becoming closer to that of Chinese society, bearing almost no resemblance to the fear and anxiety that the inhabitants of Britain exhibit throughout. This transformation of French attitudes stems from Napoleon's acceptance of a high-ranking Chinese dragon who carries a personal grudge against Laurence and Temeraire.

In Africa[edit]

Until the fourth novel, it was presented that dragons living in Africa were believed to be primarily feral (at least by European standards). Many European courier dragons disappeared just from trying to find shelter on African shores. In Empire of Ivory, it is revealed that some sub-Saharan tribes such as the Sotho and Tswana practice a form of ancestor-worship wherein notable ancestors may be "reincarnated" in draconic form. The practice in Africa consists of ritual and song praising the ancestor's deeds and life. Performing these rituals around an incubating egg imprints these traits on the dragon, identifying the dragon's personality with that of the ancestor. The Tswana Empire is led by one such dragon-king. Dragons also protect and work with the tribe members (their "children"), performing military actions and tasks that would often be associated with technology in other cultures, such as deep mining.

In South America[edit]

Societal relations with dragons in South America are based around a modified ayllu wherein the chief and "owner" of the community is a dragon. Crucible of Gold reveals that the Incan society of South America used to be more equal between dragons and men. It was a great honor for men to persuade a dragon to join one's ayllu. Few dragons were chiefs then. The status, social standing of the unit was all decided by the dragon's health, size and strength, but the diseases brought from Europeans devastated the human population while leaving the dragons untouched. The plagues reversed man's dominance. As a result, there are more dragons than men in the Incan empire, and dragons occupy most positions of political significance, though there are still human representatives and it is not entirely Dragon-ruled. Dragons serve as chiefs of their ayllu, managing and taking care of their people. The dragons are extremely possessive of their people, but the shortage of humans has resulted in a practice where dragons of small ayllus steal people from larger ones. It is not possible for a man for travel alone and unaccompanied along the roads without being abducted by a dragon eager to adopt them into their social unit.

A dragon's status in Incan society is determined by not only how many people they manage, but how well they care for them as well. Humans who feel they are not well looked after may complain to the provincial governor of Humans to transfer them to another ayllu. If the only governors were Dragons, they would not seriously take onboard any grievance from humans wanting to be reunited with the original ayllu they were stolen from. Governors are also tasked with managing patrols to prevent thievery of men while ending disputes between dragons over ownership of people. Any dragon caught stealing would be forced to return the person to their original owner and compensate the aggrieved party, usually by giving one from their own ayllu too. If they refused they would have to accept a challenge, a fight with a heavyweight dragon, acting as a representative of the state. The Incan dragons have also developed a welfare system of sorts as well. If any dragon were to lose their entire ayllu to disease or other, the wealthiest in society would be forced by law to give up a few humans to help the destitute beast rebuild their family group.

In other parts of the world[edit]

So far, only a few clues have been released about this topic. These tidbits are included below.

  • North America: Little is revealed about North American dragons. The natives of the North American Great Plains have dragons that are always accompanied by a single rider rather than a whole crew as in Europe. In Australia, the characters receive intelligence that there are more dragons in the United States than can be crewed, and that any man may apply to partner one. It is later revealed that dragons in North America have status as citizens, allowing them to run commercial operations and enter the upper echelons of society.
  • Japan: It is stated that Dragons in Japan tend to be bred for traits useful in combat, such as the Sui Riu's ability to inhale significant amounts of water and spit it out boiling. Dragons also are part of the ruling hierarchy of the nation, with most dragons taking the title of 'Lord' or 'Lady'. They will sometimes have a number of noble vassals but are generally treated as Nobility among most Japanese citizens. Instead of taking companions when hatched (like British Dragons) or choosing one later in life (like Chinese), Japanese dragons are encouraged not to take a human companion. This is because they are indeed part of the hierarchy of nobility, and as such their opinions and wants should not be swayed should the law require it. Dragons with human companions are more likely to lean towards whatever may please their companion, rather than what would suit best for the situation.
  • Europe: Seems to have followed lines of development very close to those in Britain. Recently, France has begun to adopt the Chinese norm.
  • Ottoman Empire: As in Europe, dragons are used primarily for military purposes, although in the lax nature of the late Ottoman Empire, they did not see much action other than guarding city gates, acting as border patrols, and the common courier duty. Dragons do seem to be more in evidence in the city of Istanbul and guard the palace of the Sultan.
  • Russia: In Russia, the situation is dire. Dragons are subject to ritual abuse, torture and deliberately starved within their breeding grounds with their wings hobbled by spikes, as a result of the government's fear of the dragons turning upon the people. The Imperial Russian Aerial Corps keep the sentient beasts in gulags. Heavyweight dragons, if they comply with military commands, are somewhat exempt from this and are bribed with large amounts of 'treasure' and courier dragons which they may enslave and in turn brutalize. However, even heavyweights are seen as low-quality livestock and do not receive access to information, quality food, health care or freedom of movement. As a consequence of this brutality, Russian dragons feel no loyalty, to anyone, or any state, and will devour whatever comes their way, including wounded humans.
  • Australia: It is stated that there are no Dragons in New South Wales (i.e., Australia). However, in the sixth book, Tongues of Serpents, a new species referred to by the natives as Bunyips are observed. They are about the size of a courier dragon and burrow beneath the sand to capture their prey by means of a sort of "trap door". They also show signs of significant intelligence. There is heavy implication that the bunyips are small, flightless dragons, indicated by stumps on their shoulders.

Feral dragon society[edit]

Although many human authors in this world seem unaware of the fact, dragons in the wild seem to have their own unique society. They have languages unique to their species; one such language, spoken in Central Asia, is called Durzagh. Feral dragons may band together in small groups or live in a solitary manner depending on their inclination. They also may have their own oral tradition, consisting of story-telling accompanied by elaborate pantomime. Feral dragons, while still sentient and curious, have no qualms with eating dead people, something which civilized dragons abhor.

Film version[edit]

The Hollywood Reporter reported that Peter Jackson, who is best known for directing The Lord of the Rings trilogy, had optioned the rights to the series. Jackson added that Temeraire "is a terrific meld of two genres that I particularly love—fantasy and historical epic. I can't wait to see Napoleonic battles fought with a squadron of dragons. That's what I go to the movies for."[9] On July 24, 2009 in an interview with IGN, Jackson stated that he had considered making the story as a mini-series, as he was worried that if the first movie flopped at the box office, it would put the story at a full stop and leave it incomplete.[10] On Naomi Novik's AMA on reddit on February 24, 2016, Novik said that the film rights had reverted to her once again, and there is no plan for any adaptation at the moment.[11]


  1. ^ "Temeraire: the official website of Naomi Novik". Archived from the original on 15 June 2006. Retrieved 9 June 2006.
  2. ^ Baltimore Science Fiction Society: Compton Crook Award Winners
  3. ^ Betsy Mitchell (June 22, 2011). "Posted Prologue: Crucible of Gold". Temeraire.org. Retrieved 2011-08-16.
  4. ^ Novik, Naomi. "Naomi Novik official Facebook page". Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  5. ^ Amazon listing. "League of Dragons Temeraire book 9". Retrieved 19 June 2016.
  6. ^ Novik, Naomi (2009), In His Majesty's Service (hardcover), Del Rey, ISBN 978-0-345-51354-0
  7. ^ "Golden Age and Other Stories". Subterranean Press. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  8. ^ Black Powder War, p. 125.
  9. ^ Borys Kit (September 12, 2006). "Lord of fantasy: Jackson eyeing 'Temeraire'". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 2007-10-14. Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  10. ^ http://movies.ign.com/articles/100/1007061p1.html
  11. ^ https://www.reddit.com/r/YAwriters/comments/476y90/ama_naomi_novik_author_of_uprooted_the_temeraire/

External links[edit]