August 24, 2017

Throne of Jade

by Naomi Novik

Novik was one of the Guests of Honor at Readercon this year, and gave a fascinating interview on her migration from fan fiction to novels. Writing slash sex scenes, she explained, was good practice for dragon-borne aerial combat; you have to keep track of what’s where, and you can’t fall back on pronouns (because they’re all the same) or props (because nobody’s wearing clothes).

This is the second volume of Novik’s series about Temeraire, which here is not just the second-rate of Trafalgar fame but also a dragon, one of exceptional size and intelligence, captured from a French frigate and impressed into the royal Air Force. The series is a tribute to Patrick O’Brian’s great Aubrey-Maturin stories and captures some of their language and verve, though Novik is less formally adventurous and tends to spell out combat scenes that O’Brian would simply omit.

No one shares O’Brian’s facility with archaic nautical terms, but Novik sometimes gets badly tangled up; for example, in her dragon transport Allegiance she describes the ship’s dragon deck

“that flowed out at the front of the ship, stretching from the foremast forward to the bow.”

Sailors repeatedly descend from the dragondeck to the quarterdeck, but a quarterdeck by definition is a partial deck at the stern. Dragons are heavy — Temeraire needs to take special care not to overset the ship when taking off or going for a swim — which makes the naval architecture difficult and perhaps impossible. If dragons are that big and your ship is in trimmed with dragons, she’s going to be badly down by the stern when the enemy shows up and the dragons take off.

Still, it’s good fun, and dragons at sea have lots to talk about.