A houseproud dragon called Temeraire is clearing some living space inside a Welsh cave. He's annoyed by the other dragons in the human-guarded encampment and he misses his captain, Will Laurence, who has been charged with treason. As he waits to be reunited with Laurence, Temeraire ponders international dragon loyalty, human war and European politics as the French advance towards London.
It's a lot for one gruff dragon to handle and the reader's sympathy is immediately with this curious reptile hero. This is the fifth instalment in Novik's adventure series, in which the Napoleonic wars have been rejigged to include fleets of dragons on both sides. Dragon fantasies have been popularised by Mercedes Lackey and Anne McCaffrey, but Novik (left) occupies tougher territory, encompassing military adventure and anthropology. The breeds are wonderfully named: there are Anglewings, Malachite Reapers, Regal Coppers. They are clever and brave but (rare for fantasy fiction) not socially enlightened: militaristic patriarchal values define the dragon world, in which uninteresting lady dragons bring the males dowry-bribes when it's time to "make eggs". Still, Temeraire is excellent company as he and Laurence defend England with swishing smarts and roaring zeal. They drop you off at the end, bemused and exhilarated, before steeling themselves for another episode of swashbuckling adventure with added firepower.