Eighth and penultimate entry (Crucible of Gold, 2012, etc.) in Novik's historical fantasy series that presents the Napoleonic wars as a global conflict whose armed forces include intelligent dragons.
Washed ashore alone in Japan, William Laurence finds he has no memory of the last eight years. He recalls captaining a royal navy vessel, but, puzzlingly, he wears an aviator’s green jacket. As the guest, or prisoner, of a local lord who serves Lady Arikawa, he finds that he can speak Chinese—a fact that makes the isolationist Japanese all the more suspicious. Laurence escapes, but, oddly, Lady Arikawa—she turns out to be a powerful dragon—makes no great effort to recapture him. Assisted by Lady Kiyomizu, a boozy water-dragon with a taste for Shakespeare, Laurence makes his way to Nagasaki, the only Japanese city that permits foreigners, where he’s reunited with his companions, including his dragon partner, Temeraire, but his memories still stubbornly refuse to return. Some officers of the Aerial Corps, an astonished Laurence discovers, are women; even more surprising, he learns that he’s an adopted son of the Chinese emperor and that his mission is to persuade China to join an alliance against Napoleon. Unfortunately, the Chinese court is riddled with traitors, and the British are suspected of involvement in the opium trade. Meanwhile, backed by an alliance with the powerful Incan empire, Napoleon has invaded Russia. Novik has a firm grasp of 19th-century styles, sensibilities and manners. Her fantasy extrapolations of real history are both charming and realistic. She writes vivid action prose with a good feel for the fog of battle. Best of all, the dragons are characters as fully realized as the humans.
A first-class entry in a remarkable and appealing series; this one’s mostly independently intelligible, though newcomers will want to start from the beginning.