That’s not duty, Will (Temeraire read-along week 3)

Book cover: Temeraire by Naomi NovikCaptain Laurence and Temeraire have settled into life at Loch Laggan and got down to the important things: formation flying and picking their crew. But with the pressure from Napoleon increasing daily, are they ready for active service?


We get our first taste of dragon-on-dragon action this week (not like that, you filthy-minded guttersnipes) as our boys are deployed alongside Maximus and Berkley to rescue an injured Victoriatus. It’s fascinating stuff: the dragons are fully-harnessed and crewed, and expected to support their injured comrade’s weight in the air. I couldn’t quite imagine how this was going to work, but I was distracted from puzzling over the logistical complexity as I was too busy being impressed by Will Laurence.

After all, if you’ve got a flight of several hours to find and rescue a very large dragon, you might as well practice your manoeuvres on the way, right? Will’s Navy training never lets up – but the charming thing is that his crew appear to have responded well to his discipline, as there are no complaints and they acquit themselves well. And let’s face it – just sitting on a dragonback for several hours would have been really dull, right?

No, I’m not convinced, either.

It certainly isn’t dull when they finally rendezvous and the logistics prove every bit as awkward as I thought. Not only that, Temeraire has outflown Maximus, but – big-hearted darling that he is – tries to support Victoriatus by himself to relieve the over-burdened Yellow Reapers. I’m not good with heights. When it all went wrong, I actively stopped trying to imagine what was going on as Will scrambled in and out of harness, dangling off the sides of a now-injured Temeraire and generally being heroic. AAARRRGGH. Slightly queasy, even now.

Safe back at Loch Laggan, the boys get some downtime, which leads to one of the most adorable scenes in the book so far (which is saying something): Temeraire enticing his dragon pals to swim in the lake with him. Little Levitas thrashes around like an over-excited small dog, Lily is slowly enticed in, and Maximus is eventually teased into belly-flopping in and chasing Temeraire around. It’s kids in a swimming pool – enormous, scaly, dragon kids. HEART. MELTS.

Unfortunately, this scene also ushers in an inevitable confrontation with horrible Captain Rankin, who takes exception to someone showing Levitas some care and attention. On the plus side, this leads to the straightening out of a world-building kink that bothered us last week: what happens when a long-lived dragon’s handler dies, given the level of attachment that develops between dragon and captain. It turns out that dragons are often willing to adopt the children of their beloved handlers – except when they turn out to be little shits. Celeritas carried Rankin’s father and grandfather, and now carries a burden of guilt for not stopping Aerial Command from re-assigning the odious grandson when Celeritas refused to take him.

The only glimmer of hope here is that Celeritas says that Rankin will remain an aviator – and a captain ‘while Levitas obeys him’. He warns Will against intervening further as there are strict rules against seducing another officer’s dragon (for obvious reasons – there are far more aviators than dragons). Hopefully, having been shown some kindness and consideration, Levitas will see sense on his own?

We get another detail confirmed when a French rebel arrives and it turns out Temeraire speaks fluent French. Will being as confused as we are by his dragon’s linguistic facilities, he once again turns to Celeritas for answers. It turns out to be neat in every sense: dragons can hear within their shell. As they grow, they pick up the language being spoken around them. Temeraire is exceptional not for speaking French (he was aboard a French ship for months), but for picking up English fluently within a week of being wrested from French control. Clever, clever boy.

Will is justifiably proud. He’s also worried about Temeraire’s judgement, though. Temeraire was willing to drop everything (i.e. a very large, injured dragon) when he thought Will was at risk of falling on the flight back with Victoriatus. Will treats Temeraire to a little lecture on duty, and reprimands him for risking the lives of others to save Will’s own. This leads to an eye-opening (for Will) heart to heart, and Will is once again put firmly back in his box.

I do not obey you because it is a habit and I cannot think for myself; I do it because I know you are worthy of being obeyed. You may value their lives above your own; I cannot do so, for to me you are worth far more than all of them. I will not obey you in such a case, and as for duty, I do not care for the notion a great deal, the more I see of it.

Oh, Will. He needs a chat with Captain Mal Reynolds (not that Will would take advice from such  reprobate). Temeraire, on the other hand, would get on with him entirely too well. And pick up some really bad habits. And bad language.

L O V E. Bear with me, I need to find a hanky. Right, as you were.

Buoyed by a successful mission and the onset of puberty (I may have sniggered. Just a little), Temeraire begins to assert himself more – he can’t restrain that competitive streak that we glimpsed when he first met Volatilus. Soon he, Will and their crew are designing their own manoeuvres to improve formations (and yes, having just finished Ninefox Gambit, I did have to keep checking my expectations regards formation effects).

This newfound confidence comes not a moment too soon: our boys are called to active duty guarding the Channel. We are treated to another heart-stopping aerial battle (don’t look down. Don’t even think about down) when a flight of French dragons spring an ambush, and by the end of it there’s no doubt that Will and Temeraire have earned their place in the Corps. Will is turning out to be a rather good aviator, and Temeraire is an unusual dragon in almost every respect.

Ending the week in Dover, we get one last reminder of just how much Will Laurence has loosened up since we first met him. While he’s initially taken aback on meeting Senior Captain Roland – young Emily Roland’s mother, aviator to the Longwing who essentially leads the defence of the Channel – he recovers well, even when she talks casually about him needing to breed some heirs for Temeraire to inherit in due course. Poor Will – for everything he’s learnt, he’s terrible at thinking things through to their natural conclusions. I very much enjoy that Naomi Novik has thought these things through, and the amount of fun she has spelling them out for him (and us).

I also suspect that Will’s love life will be a topic that runs and runs, not least given the epically entertaining conversation Will has with always-possessive Temeraire about sex, marriage and commitment. Bless.

Pleasant surprise of the week: Will burying the hatchet with Granby, who turns out to be a decent officer and a good human being when they both stop trying to out-prejudice the other.

LIve reactions as we read are captured on Storify thanks as ever to @effingrainbow.

The #Temeraire live tweet-alongs continue on Sundays at 9pm BST. We’ll be finishing up Temeraire (His Majesty’s Dragon) next Sunday, then continuing straight on to Throne of Jade from June 12th.