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This Alternate History series sets out to answer a vital question that has intrigued historians for millennia: What would the Napoleonic Wars have been like if the countries involved fought them with dragons? The series centers on William Laurence, a Navy captain who takes possession of a French ship transporting a valuable dragon egg home. Unfortunately for Laurence, the egg is very close to hatching when he takes it on board, and an "unharnessed" dragon who doesn't choose a captain within a day of hatching becomes feral and thus useless for anything but breeding stock. He ends up harnessing the baby dragon and naming him Temeraire, after a famous French ship captured by the British; the books center on the pair's adventures together.

Seven books currently make up the series: Edit

  • His Majesty's Dragon (2006) (Published as Temeraire in the UK)
  • Throne of Jade (2006)
  • Black Powder War (2006)
  • Empire of Ivory (2007)
  • Victory of Eagles (2008)
  • Tongues of Serpents (2010)
  • Crucible of Gold (2012)

The series was remarkable in that, upon reading the manuscript for the first novel, the editor was so excited she asked the author, Naomi Novik, to finish the next two quickly for an unusual push: the first three novels were released back to back over the course of three months. Novik has said she has a definite endpoint for the series, but she does not know how many more books will be required; she currently estimates the series will total nine.

Peter Jackson has reportedly optioned the series for being made into movies.


Tropes used in Temeraire include:
  • A Boy and His X
  • Action Girl: See Action Mom and consider all the childless female aviators and dragons there must be.
  • Action Mom: Captains Roland and Harcourt. Since dragons almost always outlive their captains, said captains are expected to have children who will hopefully be amenable to the dragon after the original captain's death. Since one very valuable breed of dragon, the acid-spitting Longwing, will only accept female captains, Action Moms are probably rather common. Also, technically speaking, any female dragons that have laid eggs which have hatched.
  • Alcohol Is Poison: Averted during Harcourt's pregnancy.
  • Alpha Bitch: Miss Montagu is a sort of proto-Alpha Bitch. Though sitting beside him at dinner, she ignores Laurence, almost to the point of rudeness, in his parents' own house, entirely because he was an aviator, and later also makes a point of telling him his ex-sorta-fiancee had gotten married while he was fighting for England.
  • Alternate History: For obvious reasons.
  • Amazon Brigade: See Shout-Out.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Right when things are bleakest in Victory of Eagles, Tharkay shows up and asks, "Laurence, what are you doing?"
  • Ascended Fanfic: Of Aubrey-Maturin, According to Word of God.
  • Attention Deficit Ooh Shiny: Iskierka and the ferals tend towards the hyperactive. And bling-loving.
  • Berserk Button: Don't hurt a captain unless you want their dragon's multi-tonne shit to flip out. And for that matter, don't hurt a dragon unless you want to turn their captain into The Determinator.
    • Conversely, threatening a captain's well being (whether by a boarding party holding one at gunpoint or keeping one imprisoned on the ground) is considered the most certain means of controlling an otherwise hostile dragon...but even that can backfire.
  • Big Bad: Napoleon, of course, at least from the POV of the British. Whenever we actually see him, he's characterized as an Affably Evil Anti-Villain.
  • Big Eater: Dragon hatchlings in general. Temeraire managed to put away his weight in meat within a day of hatching. In absolute terms full grown dragons may qualify as well given that a heavyweight would call a whole cow every third day short commons.
  • Bilingual Bonus: There's not much, but occasionally there are snippets of a non-English language transcribed.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Rankin. At first, Laurence takes a liking to him because he's the only aviator who acts polite and friendly to Laurence when he first arrives, and he assumes the reason the other aviators avoid Rankin is because they're uncomfortable around someone who acts upper-class. Nope; it's because Rankin abuses his dragon and is a snobby Jerkass to the other captains.
  • Bling of War: Iskierka is fond of displaying her treasure, and insists Granby dresses to match.
    • To the point that he has three or four dress jackets, only one of which he can wear with some sense of humility, because the others are so covered in said bling that the only fabric the jacket consists of is what holds all the jewels and metals together and can no longer be worn by anyone due to sheer weight.
    • Note that while the humans find this behavior ridiculous, all the other dragons are jealous. The only thing stopping them from outfitting their own captains this way is the fact that Iskierka, with her talent at capturing enemy ships, is the only one who can afford it.
  • Bond Creatures: Emotional rather than psychic, and Victory of Eagles has several examples of how this doesn't always work out.
    • The hope that descendants will take on the bond after death doesn't always hold as well; Jerkass Rankin was supposed to be the third in line of long timer Celeritas, but there never any connection; Celeritas choose to go captainless instead of letting the asshole ride him, and Rankin ended up as a courier, until his dragon dies.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Iskierka.
  • Breather Episode: Tongues of Serpents has little in the way of dramatic plot advancement, and is more about our heroes settling into their new life while Europe's power in the outside world begins to dwindle alarmingly
  • Bullying a Dragon: Literally; see Fantastic Racism.
  • Butt Monkey: Half the humor is the petty indignities Laurence gets subjected to.
    • There's a Running Gag through the first couple of books where Laurence is presented with an unusual social situation and immediately assumes something scandalous is happening. He mentally chastises himself for jumping to conclusions, only for the other characters to embarrass him by cheerfully confirming his first impressions.
    • And then there's poor Granby.
  • Can't Argue With Dragons: A plot point but ultimately averted in Tongues of Serpents. Temeraire spends a lot of time warning an egg about how horrible Captain Rankin is... but neglects the possibility that the dragonling might turn out materialistic and appreciate a captain from a rich family.
    • The two deserve each other though.
  • Changing of the Guard: We switch to Temeraire's POV while Laurence is indisposed in Victory of Eagles. From that point on they share the spotlight.
  • Changeling Fantasy: Temeraire is for all intents and purposes a Chinese prince growing up as a common (okay, not-so-common) British Beast of Battle.
  • Child Soldiers: The cadets, and almost certainly the midshipmen as well.
  • Childhood Marriage Promise: Laurence and a girl he knew made a half-serious marriage betrothal when they were young, just before he went off to join the Navy. When he became an aviator in his early thirties, his prospects and suitability greatly reduced by it, and the girl called it off.
  • Crossing the Desert: In Black Powder War and Tongues of Serpents.
  • Cultural Posturing: The Chinese toward Europe (and fair enough, considering that in China, dragons are ordinary citizens and accorded all due rights and protections), and a bit from Temeraire toward a heavyweight trying to bully him: "My ancestors were scholars in China when yours were slaves in pits."
    • Seemingly a reference to Benjamin Disraeli's epic Cultural Posturing, as recorded on that trope's page: "My people were kings and princes, when yours were galley slaves."
  • Cunning Linguist: Dragons absorb languages they hear in the shell, at a very accelerated rate. With most breeds this ability fades a few weeks after hatching, but Imperials and Celestials retain it over their entire life. This usually leads to Temeraire serving as translator when the crew are in unfamiliar territory; he can typically hold a conversation within a few days of hearing a new language.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Tharkay.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: All over the place. Because it's set in the early 1800s, the abolition of slavery is extremely controversial, female captains in the Aerial Corps have to be kept secret for fear of scandal, and single parents are regarded with horror.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Laurence, Victory of Eagles.
  • Determined Widow: Mrs. Pemberton in Crucible of Gold
  • Did Not Do the Research: Averted. As an example, Naomi Novik traveled to Botswana and spoke to a number of Tswana people, as well as poring over history books.
    • Some have accused her of getting the fine points of the sailing thing wrong, such as the route the Allegiance takes to China not being as fast as the one ships in the real world would have used, but then if that's their best criticism...
      • Justifiable with those Napoleonic aircraft carriers. Dragon transports are designed to carry about seven(!) middleweight dragons. The minimum ration for said dragons consists of a cow sized helping of food every second day, in addition to what a crew of hundreds and any additional passengers eat. Fishing would solve some of the food problems, but Temeraire is of a handful (if that) of British dragons that can fish themselves and it's no guarantee when the humans do it either. If a transport is going to be ferrying a full compliment of dragons--such as in Empire of Ivory, when Temeraire's entire squadron is taken to South Africa, it would only make sense to have friendly ports directly along the route.
      • Not to mention that sailing vessels didn't start using optimal routes until after Maury's Physical Geography of the Sea in 1855; before that routes were typically straight lines between destinations, so they'd use the shortest route but not the fastest for a vessel dependent on winds.
    • In "Tongues of Serpents" she portrays William Bligh as a cruel and obstinate man obsessed with his position. Given that historical records seem to indicate that Bligh was actually a very well-respected man who was ousted from his governorship because he was attempting to stop illegal activities, which threatened the profits of well-entrenched citizens. Historically, his concern for many of the new colonists coming into the Australian colony was such that many citizens named their children after him. It could be that Naomi made a common mistake among popular fiction writers and confused him with Edward Edwards of the HMS Pandora, who was sent after the Bounty mutineers, and a captain who was supposedly very cruel to the men under him.
      • While she does make Bligh look like a petty, self-obsessed person, the reason for his ouster from New South Wales is ambiguous in the story, and in real life he was mutinied against four times just like in-universe. Given his unquestionable morals, an abrasive personality seems as good an explanation as any for his horrible management record.
      • It's generally pretty well agreed at this point that while Bligh did have a strong sense of ethics, he was also not much of a leader. And also he was kind of a dick.
    • Actually, Novik's inability to write Asian names correctly does count as a research failure. Pinyin and Wade-Giles; those totally mix interchangeably!
    • Novik also has the distressing habit of omitting an entire rank of the Royal Navy, with lieutenants jumping directly to captaincy without stopping off at commander along the way. While this may not be entirely unheard-of, it most definitely is NOT standard practice as is indicated.
    • Novik's worldbuilding shows a lack of research on Chinese history and culture too. Or at least, she didn't seem to do very deep research as she didn't seem to think things through very well since she basically handwaves Chinese history as being the same except with dragons inserted. China is being ruled under the Qing dynasty at this current point in time but she doesn't address the issue of how the overthrow of dynasties would be possible if Celestial dragons are required to legitimize an Emperor, which is a point that would be relevant for the Qing dynasty as it is a minority Manchu-led government over the ethnic Han majority population. The Manchu had to constantly make sure they weren't culturally assimilated by the Han Chinese while dissipating any ethnic tensions that arose from enforcing the Manchu's superior status in society, which is why their long rule was such a big deal since the social ossification they enforced to keep in power also led to China's downfall later on. Manchu culture also actually negates a key plot point with Lien since white is considered an unlucky color in Chinese culture but that is a belief of HAN Chinese culture. White was actually liked as a color in Manchu culture due to their nomadic hunter roots so white didn't have nearly as many negative connotations as it would in the general Han Chinese culture.
      • Novik also doesn't bother doing research in Chinese language since the Manchu used the Manchu script and likely spoke it to each other in private while using Mandarin for in public. Since Novik writes about characters and brush strokes, Temeraire is obviously studying the Han characters rather than Manchu writing which is alphabet-based.
  • The Ditz: Volatilus is a sweetie, but brains are not his strong point.
  • Dope Slap: Temeraire was on the receiving end on one occasion (from another dragon, of course)
  • The Dragon/Dragon Lady: Lien, appropriately enough.
  • Dragon Rider: The entire concept of the series. However, people ride dragons in a different manner than most books; for example, they almost always have crews, each person fulfills a different duty, the handler is mostly there for guiding the dragon, and getting boarded is often a hazard in battles.
  • Dragons Raise You: Laurence has had to reevaluate many of his preconceptions about dragons, morals and other nations over the years when he found he couldn't justify them to Temeraire, who never met a tradition he didn't question.
  • Eagle Land: A few jabs are taken at America in His Majesty's Dragon, with such allusions as how if Laurence lets Temeraire get any more leverage with him he'll be complaining about taxation without representation and throwing tea into the harbor.
  • Egg McGuffin: "There's something queer in the hold, sir."
  • Eternal Sexual Freedom: Used rarely and always justified. Dragons are too important for anything short of treason to be levied at their captains, so aviators live in "a sort of outrageous libertinage" (as the rest of the world sees it)--not constantly having bisexual orgies by any means but quite happy to receive occasional casual sex. Even an illegitimate child by a female aviator has a chance of being a good thing.
  • Evil Albino: Lien. An albino member of a breed that's normally black would be awkward on its own, but given that this is China, where white is the colour of death, she's considered unlucky, and is only tolerated because of her position within the imperial family. When her companion dies she's left with nothing, except for the thought of revenge on our heroes.
  • Evil Counterpart: Lien to Temeraire. The same breed of dragon with all the same abilities, but much more experienced and knowledgeable, and in a position of much greater influence within her faction.
  • Fantastic Racism: Used in a somewhat Anvilicious manner, because the series also enumerates the many forms of discrimination still in place in 19th-century Britain, but because this has to be brought home to the creatures-of-their-time characters, not the reader, it's also Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped. Varies from culture to culture. Britain is comparable to Europe outside of France's sphere of influence, Russia is reputed to be even worse, the Islamic world has long regarded Dragons as having souls, Napoleon and Lien have instituted considerable reforms in France, China regards them as (large, winged, thumbless) citizens of various stations, and dragons are actually revered among the Tswana of Africa.
    • Among the Inca, in ages past there was a normal tribal structure among the humans, and having a dragon as a member of your tribe was seen as a sign of great status, and an indication of remarkable capabilities to have attracted them. Now, various plagues have reduced the human population to the point where virtually every tribe has a dragon as its chief, and having a great many men is seen as a sign of status for the dragons and kidnappings are unfortunately common among dragons who seek to increase their own group or replace losses from disease. It's not quite to the point of slavery, but many of the draconic citizens do seem to view their people as possessions.
  • A Father to His Men: Laurence to Temeraire, Emily, Dryer, Demane, and Sipho. And considering that those members are all teenagers at the oldest and most of them have no fathers, it's almost literal.
  • The Fettered: Laurence.
  • Fiery Redscale: Surely Iskierka counts.
  • First Episode Spoiler: Temeraire is from China. He's originally identified as an Imperial, but his sonic attack identifies him as a Celestial--one of eight alive--and was meant to be Napoleon's personal steed.
  • Fish Out of Water: Captain Laurence in the beginning of His Majesty's Dragon is rather dismayed at the level of informality common amongst aviators, coming as he does from a naval background. He eventually adjusts, but remains markedly more formal than most captains of dragons--and his crew, when things are normal, tries to emulate him out of respect. And that's before this group of English folk go to China...
  • Fragile Speedster/ Glass Cannon: The Spanish have the Flecha-Del-Fuego breed, a lightweight class fire-breather.
  • Frivolous Lawsuit: Will Laurence lost his life savings after the "traders" he and Temeraire retrieved from outside the ruins of a British slave port sued over them cutting loose the two-hundred odd slaves they still had chained up (they were less polite about the matter than they could have been, but there was no way to secure them on a ship already packed with refugees from the destruction of Cape Colony)
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Perscitia. Also The Smart Guy - she is the one counted on to figure out how to fire cannons, for example.
  • Genius Bruiser: Temeraire is a 20-ton dragon. He's also, apparently, one of the smartest people in Britain. Now consider that many of his fellow dragons can follow along with him as he discusses advanced mathematical problems...and that includes Maximus, who's about the second-largest dragon in the series.
  • Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: Although he doesn't slap him, Tharkay's discussion with Laurence at the end of Victory of Eagles has much the same effect and intentions.
  • Good Bad Girl: The female aviators, rather like the male ones, tend to have more of this than might be expected. See also Eternal Sexual Freedom.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: To his displeasure, Temeraire keeps losing members of his crew to become captains for newly-hatched dragons. He's even more possessive of Laurence, to the point of getting cagey at any other dragon that seeks attention from him.
  • Groin Attack: Harcourt mentions in passing that she once poured coffee into the lap of a man sitting beside her who wouldn't stop bothering her. (Because standing up and punching him in the face would not do, as she was dressed up at the time and the skirts made sitting down properly too much of a bother to do repeatedly.)
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The casual, if period accurate, use of "my dear" among male friends.
  • Hero of Another Story: Senior Captain and later Admiral Jane Roland. Whenever she gets deployed somewhere offscreen, you can count on something awesome happening.
  • Heroic Bastard: Quite common among the Corps, but particularly Captain Harcourt and Emily Roland.
  • Heroic BSOD: Laurence, during almost all of Victory of Eagles.
  • Historical Domain Characters: Horatio Nelson, William Wilberforce, Arthur Wellesley, William Bligh, and some obscure Corsican fellow, among many others.
    • One of the premier experts on dragons is none other than Georges Cuvier.
  • Historical Fantasy
  • Historical Hero Upgrade / Historical Villain Upgrade: Thoroughly averted. Considering the genre, setting and background of the human main character you would expect that the longer survival of Admiral Nelson would be a good thing and that Napoleon would be vilified as a Complete Monster, but it turns out that Nelson was against the abolition of the slave trade, and Napoleon is described rather positively for being the Big Bad.
  • Honor Before Reason: Laurence is all about this trope, most dramatically in his actions in Empire of Ivory.
    • Another example comes in Black Powder War: Laurence finds himself in a position to flee the doomed campaign to defend Prussia from France, thereby getting Temeraire and his men out of danger and back on their original mission. However, he feels that doing so would be pretending they could do nothing more to help, so he decides to stay.
  • Hot Mom: Arguably, Jane Roland.
  • Improbable Antidote: The mushrooms in Empire Of Ivory.
    • The idea of trying strong-tasting, smelly, or bitter herbs and foods as potential cures is something a folk medicine person would routinely do in many cultures. It took many days of such trial and error to find one that worked.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Having dragons for the entirety of recorded history hasn't actually changed that much. At least in Eurasia; in Africa and the Americas, the differences from actual history seem considerably larger -- for example, the Incas were a strong civilization as of the 1800s, having forced Pizzaro out. China in this universe, far from being in decline, is a major power that Britain must needs treat with respect (though a great many Englishmen still hold racist attitudes toward Chinese - or, in fact, anyone not English), and the African human/dragon empire in Empire of Ivory is strong enough to drive the European colonists and slavetraders clean out of sub-Saharan Africa. As noted below in the Meaningful Background Event entry, it appears from reports received in Tongues of Serpents that the Tswana have now expanded their anti-slavery campaign to Europe itself and the Americas, with all the profound implications that carries.
    • Despite all this, and most dragons being at least as intelligent as humans and apparently breeding very quickly, they haven't taken over the world.
      • Note how much they eat. Dragons breeding at human rates could conquer the world for a generation, eat all but the sneakiest humans, and then die off themselves because they used up their food supply. If dragons did decide to rule the world, society might not look that much different than it does in-universe because they couldn't domesticate animals themselves (no opposable thumbs, and livestock are too terrified of dragons to be led around) so they would still need humans just for a reliable food supply. In human cultures, the only advantage of agriculture over the hunter/gatherer system is that agriculture can sustain a much greater population density, and the same must be even more true for dragons.
      • Also their intelligence seems to vary from breed to breed. Some, like Celestials are definitely at least as intelligent as humans while others are on the dull witted side.
    • Crucible of Gold reveals that even though the Inca Empire survived the murder of Atahualpa by Pizarro, the human population was still decimated by smallpox and other diseases.
  • Interservice Rivalry: As an extension of society in general, the other branches of the British military aren't terribly supportive of the aerial corps. Understandably, the Corps responds by bristling back. The Navy and the Corps in particular seem to share a fair bit of enmity, which makes things rather awkward for Laurence at first.
  • Is That Cute Kid Yours: Laurence's father, out of the loop about the presence of women in the Corps, assumes Emily is his son's illegitimate daughter. Awkward ensues, since Laurence can't properly correct him without revealing the fact that she's part of the crew.
    • Made even worse by the fact that, while Emily isn't his child, he is sleeping with her mother--who finds the whole situation hilarious.
  • It's Raining Men: At the climax of the first book, Napoleon attempts to bypass the British blockade by constructing dragon-carried troop transports while decoying much of the Aerial Corps to Spain. It would have succeeded were it not for Temeraire's breath weapon kicking in.
    • In the third book, Napoleon and/or the banished Celestial Lien, who apparently has a spot on his General Staff adapt a form of Chinese mass transit (dragon harnesses with lots of straps for carrying large numbers of passengers) to gain vast mobility advantages during his invasion of Prussia. Temeraire figures it out in the fifth book so that the majority of the English army can avoid the same fate.
  • Jerkass: Rankin, introduced in the first book, comes from old money and has been raised to believe dragons are inferior to men and are to be bullied and disciplined into submission (an outdated mode of thinking, but one that is still supported by the admiralty). His neglect of his dragon, and his refusal to allow anyone to interfere, leads to his first dragon, Levitas, being fatally wounded in action and nearly left to die alone. In the sixth book he shows up in Australia announcing he's to be given a new dragon. Fortunately, Caesar turns out to be more than willing to stand up to him.
    • More like Rankin and Caesar were made for each other. They're a matched set of Jerkasses.
  • Just Following Orders: Laurence takes an order to give no quarters, but protects those with him by having a general give them all signed orders. Except Laurence, who further protects them with his ruined reputation.
  • Kangaroo Court: Several of those sitting on Captain Laurence's court martial were involved in the genocidal plan he and Temeraire foiled. Even if he were willing to mount a defense, the fix was in.
  • Lady of War: Plus Eternal Sexual Freedom plus Good Bad Girl plus Action Mom equals Roland. Her awesome cannot otherwise be summed up. Admittedly, by Georgian/Regency standards Roland is not the least bit Ladylike.
  • Land of Dragons: China is depicted as the nation with the most dragons, the best dragons and the most complete integration of dragons into society.
  • Lawful Stupid and Stupid Good: Laurence's actions at the end of Empire Of Ivory. This is made quite clear when Admiral Roland tells him in Victory Of Eagles a simple thing he could have done other than being a stiff-necked idiot, which would have had the desired effect of saving the Continental dragons without getting himself branded as a traitor.
    • This is really more of a case of Honor Before Reason, since when Jane Roland suggested that he could have accomplished the same thing without revealing his actions, he says "It would not have been any less treason" and previously told Temeraire "I will not now add cowardice to that crime, nor let you shield me from its consequences", both of which together strongly suggest that he would have done the same even if he'd been aware an alternative solution.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Temeraire is a heavyweight, but he's also far more maneuverable than almost any of the Western dragons.
  • Magikarp Power: Demane's dragon, Kulingle starts out born with airsacs so large he can barely move and only Demane will take care of him, everyone else wanting to mercy kill him. Later, it's revealed that the airsacs are so big because he's a heavy class dragon. Not just heavy class, either - one of the largest dragons anyone in the cast has ever seen.
  • Make Me Wanna Shout: The Celestials' "divine wind."
  • Mama Bear: Averted. Certainly those cadets' mothers who are also aviators care for them, and will protect them from unfairness, but they tend to be a bit more practical, seeing as how their children are going to go in hard service, and think it's best if said children take knocks so long as said knocks are earned.
  • The Manette: Take The Ladette and mature her -- not just physically but mentally and emotionally -- and you have, in many ways, Captain Roland.
    • Captain Harcourt is a younger version.
  • Married to the Job: Most aviator captains. It's explicitly pointed out that it's hard to fight with a dragon for your spouse's affections.
  • Meaningful Background Event: Tongues of Serpents gives several mentions of events in other lands that don't impact the plot of the book but that will likely affect the series going forward, most notably the Tswana expanding their assault on the slave trade into Europe and the Americas.
  • Meaningful Name: Lots of the dragons have these. Iskierka means 'little spark'. Excidium the Longwing's (i.e. Britain's supstitute for a fire breather) name means 'destruction' in Latin. But the best example is probably Requiescat the Regal Copper, it means 'to rest' and he's a lazy bastard. However, it is also the R in R.I.P.
    • Perscitia is very clever, guess what her name in latin is.
    • Temeraire is french for reckless / foolishly brave
      • Temeraire was also the name of a French ship that was captured and then used by the Royal Navy.
  • Mildly Military: See Married to the Job and Eternal Sexual Freedom. Also see Officer and a Gentleman, because the customs Laurence learned in the Navy are frequently in conflict with those of the Aerial Corps. See Bratty Half-Pint, even-- the Admiralty don't even bother to hand down edicts to enforce discipline on the half-wild dragons that have caught them so many prizes.
  • Military Maverick: Temeraire, and how.
  • Money Fetish: As in most settings, dragons are covetous and like to have (and show off) expensive things. However, they're usually pretty fair about it, having a low opinion of thieves and not really understanding the appeal of gambling. They will happily accept gifts, though, to the point of being fairly susceptible to bribery.
  • Moral Dissonance: Historically, Napoleon was no worse a leader than most absolute rulers and better than many, and that seems true in this alternate history too; he quickly recognized the value of treating dragons as people, and honored a debt to Laurence even after Laurence rejected it. Meanwhile, the English government persists in treating dragons as animals at least until the fifth book of the series, tried to use germ warfare against Napoleon's dragons in the form of a plague that could have wiped out all dragons in Eurasia, and ordered Laurence to attack French supply lines and not take prisoners. Admittedly, the last one might just be a case of War Is Hell-- he French had already invaded and occupied part of England. But still, which side are we supposed to be supporting here?
    • Deliberate Values Dissonance. The books' POV is British, hence the French/Napoleon being bad, even though neither could be said to be overly noble in comparison to the other, historically speaking. The author might also be taking a stand, similar to other works of recent years such as Firefly or Star Trek or Discworld, that, within reason, people have a right to be wrong and figure things out on their own rather than being forced into the "right" way of thinking.
    • Several dragons, being apolitical, explain that country boundaries and conquests make no difference for them. Temeraire is shown to not have any good opposing arguments.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Tharkay, very much so. A snarky, mixed-race wanderer with a troubled past, who trains birds of prey, speaks several languages and had some Ho Yay with the main male character? Checks all the boxes.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Laurence has devoted his life to the service of his country and feels obligated to be this. Fighting for the overall best interests of his country, and not necessarily for the people running it, has caused him some problems.
  • No Infantile Amnesia: Not surprisingly given their level of development upon hatching, dragons clearly remember the later parts of their gestation.

  "It is not terribly interesting, that is why we come out."

  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: This being the Napoleonic wars, found often, but especially prevalent towards of the end of Empire Of Ivory.
  • The Not Love Interest: Laurence and Temeraire. Also implied of most dragons and their companions. Dragons see their humans as something between a parent, a child and a prized possession, and usually their humans return the affection, being willing to sacrifice a great deal for their partner's happiness.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Used by several characters in Throne of Jade.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Laurence, most notably, but implied to be expected of Navy officers. Not so much aviators, though out of respect for him his crew starts imitating his formal habits.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Senior Captain/Admiral of the Air Jane Roland has two: leading half the air wing at Trafalgar, and in Victory of Eagles stopping the second French landing at Folkstone. The entire second half of Victory of Eagles can be said to be one for Wellsley, as he directs the entire English counterpush to Laurence's ignorance.
  • Old Maid: Subverted; see Eternal Sexual Freedom and Married to the Job.
  • Omniglot: Temeraire is rapidly going this way. He hatches knowing French, English, and Chinese, and picks up Turkish, German, and the language of feral dragons in the first three books alone.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Dragons are divided into many breeds, a few of which have special abilities, including fire-breathing, a sonic attack, the ability to swallow and vomit copious amounts of water, and spitting venom so potent it's effectively acid and can affect nonliving and inorganic materials. Most breeds with these abilities are valued, and fire-breathing breeds in particular are highly prized for obvious reasons. In the West, all dragons are property/soldiers in their country's military and form an Aerial Corps, though in France under Napoleon's leadership they are beginning to be treated somewhat better than Britain or Austria. In China, they're just other citzens. Just other massive, armored citizens with claws and teeth. They function rather like airborne ships, as each dragon has its own crew, including riflemen and bombers. The latter make even those breeds without any special capabilities a force to be reckoned with in war. Each dragon also has a captain with whom he or she shares a special emotional bond. And that's not even getting into the complex air-bladder-related biological handwave inserted as an extra at the end of the first book to explain how they fly in the first place.
    • Unlike in many settings with Dragon Riders, that "special bond" isn't seen as particularly mystical. It might be as simple as a psychological thing similar to a parent-child bond, since 99 percent of dragons' companions are either the first people who feed and harness them out of the egg, or the children of those dragons' previous companions when they got too old to continue work, because most dragons have longer lifespans than humans.
    • In Tongues of Serpents, the dragons' bizarre biology is taken to its extreme logical conclusion, which leads to absurdity: a young dragon of a new, unknown crossbreeding, is visibly deformed and is almost killed because he can't fly on hatching, but weeks later when his air sacs finally inflate, he can turn in midair by flapping with one wing. Basically, he's floating in midair like a balloon.
  • Papa Wolf / Mama Bear: Dragons are known to get "broody," becoming extremely protective of eggs in their care, even if they aren't the parents. This concern evaporates almost instantly on the eggs' hatching, since a newborn dragon is fully able to take care of itself. They also often have this attitude towards their captains and crews.
  • Pepper Sneeze: Used as a weapon against dragons.
  • Plucky Middie: Emily Roland is the main one, but Laurence always has a few to hand.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The odds and sods in the Breeding Grounds Temeraire gets exiled to are not exactly prime military sorts by any real measure. The only ones who were either lost their captains to battle or time and didn't care to keep fighting afterward (such as an old lazybones of a Regal Copper) or grew too old to be considered fighters and were retired (like the ancient, half-blind Longwing that remembers Queen Elizabeth's time). They're still dragons, though, so the effectiveness of this Ragtag Bunch of Misfits is much more justified than most. The majority of them were physically as powerful as any dragons, just past their prime or unwilling to take orders from humans, and Temeraire persuades them to join the fight by appealing to their intellect, pride, greed, or hope of better treatment.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Many people in-story have this attitude towards dragons, considering them at worst monstrous and dangerous brutes and at best little more than animals who just happen to be able to talk. Played straight with the Bunyips in Tongues of Serpents.
  • Retired Badass: Laurence by the end of Tongues of Serpents.
  • Rule of Cool: The use of dragons in general, but there are also swordfights on the backs of flying dragons. This is actually justified in-universe: one of the easiest ways for a dragon boarding party to disable a dragon is to hold its handler hostage, as outright killing them will cause the dragon to go berserk. Therefore, a boarder has to get up close to the handler, and a gun is too easy to kill with.
  • Sapient Ship: Ships-of-the-line rather than spaceships in this case, but the principle is the same. One of the earliest touching moments is when Laurence compares Temeraire's vocalized fondness for him to what he imagines it would feel like if his old ship had said she liked him for her captain.
  • Sapient Steed: If anything, Temeraire is smarter than Laurence. Laurence even remarks on this, once or twice.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules: Laurence rejects all offers to be paid for his actions in Empire of Ivory, though Napoleon finds a way to repay him anyway. In Victory of Eagles, he comments that everything he's lost as a result is a small price to pay compared to his conscience. Temeraire is glad he feels this way, but thinks it's stupid that a conscience is so expensive when you can't even show it off to anybody.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Amusingly inverted with Riley and Harcourt. The woman of the pair couldn't care less about legitimacy and a girl-child of hers would be assured of a pretty good future. The man, though, due in part to the primogeniture system, isn't assured of inheriting his father's fortune if he has an illegitimate child running around.
    • To explain further: The man's father's estate is entailed (will automatically pass down the male line) and his older brother has only daughters. So the only way to keep it in the immediate family would be for him to have a legitimate male heir.
  • Shout-Out: In Throne of Jade, it is explained that the Chinese aerial corps is composed entirely of women. This has its basis in a legend of one girl who sneaked away from home, partnered with a dragon, and won a great battle that saved China, and as a result the Emperor issued an edict announcing that girls were allowed to serve in the corps. The references to the legend of Hua Mulan are obvious.
    • As are, no doubt, the references to the Amazons of ancient Greek legend, who - of course - were supposed to live in China.
    • Also, the surgeon who gave Janus his nickname in Victory of Eagles has been confirmed by the author as being none other than one Stephen Maturin.
    • The comments of the convicts while they travel into the outback and vanish one after the other are the same as the ones the mooks in the second Crocodile Dundee make while traveling into the outback and vanishing one after the other.
  • Shown Their Work
  • The Smart Guy: Perscitia, a middleweight dragon exiled to the breeding grounds, is a total know-it-all with a love of math problems and a talent for problem-solving. Among other things, she figures out non-Euclidian geometry and how to work cannons.
  • Spoiled Brat: The Admiralty will do almost anything to hang onto heavyweight dragons and those with special abilities. This leads to Iskierka's deep-seated belief that "I can breathe fire, therefore your argument is invalid," is simply the natural order of things.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Iskierka towards Temeraire, much to his annoyance.
  • Stalker with a Test Tube: Iskierka wants Temeraire for his genes, though even 19th-century aviators (not even scientists) know that dragon special abilities do not work that way (she wants an egg with both firebreathing and the divine wind).
  • Stealth Hi Bye: Tharkay makes a habit of this, which is rather disconcerting when he is guiding people through a desert and the like. This is intentional, as he would rather be openly mistrusted for good reason.
  • Team Chef: Gong Su was originally a dragon chef hired on to cook for Temeraire, and crept into the role of cooking for Temeraire's human crewmen as well by virtue of being the only one on the crew who's any good at it.
    • It later turns out that he's been observing them for the Chinese nobility all along, and in the latest book is given authority to extend a prince's invitation to Lawrence. Meanwhile, his skill with his knives in combat implies training and experience beyond mere culinary pursuits.
  • This Is My Human: Dragons are highly possessive and protective of their human companions, and can frequently be heard arguing about whose is the best.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Captain Will Laurence. When the British government plans to spread a plague among the French dragons that will likely spread to kill off most of the dragons in the world, he feels morally compelled to bring the French the cure, even though it's an act of treason against his own country. And after all that, he's still Lawful enough to go right back to Britain and let himself be arrested for it. Indeed, he expects to be executed for it, and rejects merely going into voluntary exile to save his skin. He transgressed and had to face the music.
  • Tomboy/Plucky Middie: Emily Roland. She takes after her mom.
    • Given that women are treated little different in the Corps than men in terms of what is asked of them, are far fewer in number (they are kept a secret of the Corps because of historial sexism), and are so ingrained with the life around them, it's little wonder they end up with few "feminine" personality traits.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Volly and cows.
  • Tragic Mulatto: Justified by the time period; since Tharkay is half-Nepalese but educated by his high-born British father, he's discriminated against in English society and always a little out of place in Asian society.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Laurence in Victory Of Eagles. When getting exiled to Australia is arguably the second-best thing to happen to you in the story and a happy ending, things have not gone well.
  • The Unfavorite: Laurence's father does not approve of his son's new career choice, even though Laurence doesn't exactly have a choice in the matter (not that he approved much more of Laurence as a Navy captain). Unusually, Laurence spends almost no time angsting about this; he's more prone to sigh and try to find a way to avoid his father's ire where possible. What his father thinks of Laurence's becoming an adopted son of the Emperor of China as a measure of keeping Temeraire in British hands…
    • Lord Allendale does mellow a little by book four, what with a combination of the gift Laurence brought back from China, as well as Laurence and Temeraire both willing to help him in his latest efforts to abolish the slave trade. It's even to the point of offering to help support what he thinks is Will's bastard daughter, but then we get the whole treason thing, and then Lord Allendale, who's not very young, becomes ill…
  • The Unfettered: Tharkay.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Since it takes place in the Napoleonic era from the perspective of a British officer and gentleman (see above), whenever something impolite occurs we are generally treated to Laurence's appalled, embarrassed, or indignant reaction (justified or not). This results in such well-hidden gems as a masturbation joke involving a dragon.

 "Did you have a pleasant bathe?" he asked, changing the subject.

"Oh, yes; those rocks were very nice," Temeraire said, wistfully, "though it was not quite as agreeable as being with Mei."

...this sudden mention [of his Chinese companion] seemed a nonsequitur... Then Granby said, "Oh dear," and stood up to call across the camp, "Mr. Ferris! Mr. Ferris, tell those boys to pour out that water, and go and fetch some from the stream, if you please."

  • Villain Episode: Lien gets one of these in the form of a short story in the new omnibus edition of the first three books, In His Majesty's Service.
  • Wham! Episode: The end of Empire Of Ivory probably counts. After immense hardship and risk and an agonizing amount of time, the cure for the dragon plague has been found... but wait, what's this about the British government planning to weaponize it? And our heroes are doing what to stop them?
    • More recently, Crucible of Gold ch. 3 - the Allegiance sinks and established supporting character Captain Riley dies.
  • What If: Effectively, "What if the Napoleonic wars were fought with dragons!"
    • Also, what if Nelson survived the Battle of Trafalgar? Not that major but still cool to see the guy, for this troper anyway.
    • An emerging theme in the novels seems to be "What if Europe wasn't the only superpower in the early 1800s?" We've seen several examples of powerful dragon-centric nations holding their own against the nations that, in our world, rolled right over them. For example, China is still a force to be reckoned with, the Incas still control most of South America, the kingdom of Mysore still holds out against the British Raj, and Africa has now been completely reclaimed by the Tswana, who are now spreading across the world in search of their enslaved kinsmen. All in all, European colonialism seems to be having a rough go of it.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: In most of Europe, dragons are considered (by non-riders) talking beasts of burden. In many other lands – including China and, eventually, France – they're considered the same as (if not better than) humans. Possibly an extended Take That towards the time period's European attitudes towards anything that wasn't strictly European.
    • Kind of Fridge Brilliance when you remember that in Chinese folklore, a dragon is essentially a kind of god, while in European folklore, dragons are evil things to be slain and robbed and rescued from.
    • Among the Tswana, dragons are treated as the reincarnations of respected warriors and elders.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Roland's short, but sharp verbal smackdown of Laurence in Victory of Eagles regarding his actions at the end of Empire of Ivory.
    • Note that she was not upset over his treason (although the note he left was a bit of a personal embarrassment), so much as his quite literally suicidal lack of subtlety and discretion.
    • A much more serious one is delivered by Tharkay of all people with regard to some of Laurence's actions during Victory of Eaglesattacking French raiding parties and patrols and not taking any prisoners.
  • Wicked Cultured: Lien will happily discuss her plans to ruin you by crushing everything you've ever loved... over tea, of course.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men: Or rather, "Scaled Dragons and Iron Men".
  • X Meets Y: Horatio Hornblower meets Pern, among others.
    • Heck, one blurb on the back of the cover read: "It's like Jane Austen playing Dungeons and Dragons with Eragon's Christopher Paolini." Which doesn't make sense after you think about it.
      • And Temeraire is about a billion times better than Eragon could ever hope to be.
  • You Should Know This Already: Temeraire is a Celestial, not an Imperial.
  • Yowies and Bunyips and Drop Bears, Oh My!: Laurence and Temeraire encounter bunyips when they travel to Australia.