Victory of Eagles

Even if the very idea of books about dragons makes you want to flap your wings and fly away, Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series might change your mind. “Patrick O’Brian with dragons,” wrote one admiring reviewer when Novik hatched the series as a paperback original with His Majesty’s Dragon. And now the story of a young British naval officer who becomes the head of his country’s formidable dragon air force in the war against Napoleon (who has some nasty dragons of his own) continues at full strength, moving into hardcover with Book 5 and having just been acquired by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson for the big screen. Temeraire, bred by a Chinese wizard as a gift to Napoleon and captured (still inside his egg) by the ship on which Will Laurence is sailing, instantly bonds with Laurence — who reluctantly gives up the sea for the sky. The pair have many adventures together. Now, on the heels of their mission to Africa (told about in Empire of Ivory ) and seeking the cure for a deadly contagion, the dragon has been removed from military service, and Laurence has been condemned to death for treason. Meanwhile Napoleon’s forces have breached the Channel and successfully invaded English soil. Their prime objective is the occupation of London. The newest, and best, ingredient Novik has added to Victory of Eagles is turning Temeraire from a military to a political animal — a winged Stephen Maturin to Laurence’s Jack Aubrey. Banished to the Welsh breeding grounds called Pen Y Fan, “after the hard, jagged slash of the mountain at their heart,” the dragon learns to negotiate with other dragons who solve their disputes with politics rather than displays of strength. It’s a wonderful conceit, supremely executed. Patrick O’Brian would have loved it.