Fantasy author Naomi Novik's Temeraire series has taken off, earning her recognition as a New York Times bestselling author — one with a following of fans that can't get enough of her alternate history (with dragons) adventures. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, the series features British naval captain William Laurence who discovers a dragon egg that hatches the smart, powerful Temeraire. Together, they become part of the Queen's Aerial Corps, with William captaining Temeraire across the world to stop Napoleon's swath of conquests. The story's seventh installment, Crucible of Gold, released this month and today the author gives us an insider's look at the new story and what readers can expect from the series.
RT BOOK REVIEWS: For readers who are just joining your series with Crucible of Gold what are a few key things they should know about the Temeraire series as a whole before diving into your newest novel?
Naomi Novik: My series is set in an alternate version of the Napoleonic Wars, where an air force of dragons fights alongside the ships-of-the-line and the vast armies of infantry. The novels follow William Laurence, a naval captain who by accident becomes the captain of Temeraire, a powerful and also radical-thinking dragon who drags him into one adventure after another.
When Crucible of Gold opens, Laurence and Temeraire have sufficiently displeased their superiors to find themselves transported to Australia, where they are struggling to envision a new life for themselves, apart from the war. But the war is not quite done with them...
RT: Laurence and Temeraire, his dragon companion, have been through more together than most couples go through, what is one way that their relationship stays strong?
NN: I think that what's interesting and most fun is when the relationship is tested, brought to the breaking-point — as it has many times, on both sides — but in the end, withstands the trial, and how that happens.
RT: In the world you have created humans are engaged in precarious negotiations, but the dragons are also deeply involved in politics. What are some of the key differences about how their factions interact as opposed to how the humans do?
NN: I try and keep certain broad aspects of dragons consistent, some underlying instincts, but a huge part of the fun of the series for me is exploring the differences between dragons, and how dragons and people relate to one another, in different cultures. So in Europe, for instance, dragons are still regarded warily, as barely-tamed savage monsters; in China, dragons are equal members of society.
RT: Crucible of Gold is the first time Laurence and Temeraire have interacted with the Inca, what is your favorite detail about the Inca that made it into the story?
NN: In the Inca society — after the terrible decimation of the human population that happened during colonial times — the dragons have become obsessed with keeping their human companions safe, and marking their status by their success at doing so. They've established a dominance over human society that the people often struggle against.
RT: Your Temeraire series follows the Napoleonic Wars set in an alternate universe; how true to actual events do you think it’s important to be when writing alternate history?
NN: I try and preserve specific events whenever the story isn't actively served by changing them, because I think of them as useful signposts — they help to ground the reader and let them know where they stand, historically. And more broadly, I try to respect the larger flow of history throughout, even as I change specific events around.
RT: There are two more books left in the series, can you give us any hints as to where Capt. Laurence and the Aerial Corps will travel next?
NN: Just a hint: we're getting quite close to 1812. :)
RT: You bring these dragons to life in a very realistic way, is there something you keep in mind when writing them to help readers see them as believable creatures?
NN: Just mainly to think of them as people — they think in very different ways than humans do, but they're still each whole individuals with their own motivations, some good and some bad and some peculiar; they aren't mere attachments to their people, even if the people sometimes think of them that way. (The dragons sometimes think so in reverse as well, of course!)
RT: What’s one thing readers will never see your dragons do?
NN: That's really the fundamental thing that my dragons would never do — they'd never be simple animals. Within that constraint, their behavior is as wide-ranging as that of people — they can commit murder, lie, scheme; they can love, laugh, play.
RT: If you had to take a trip around the world with any character from fantasy fiction (not your own), who would it be and why?
NN: Oh, I'd take Masterharper Robinton, from Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels, in a shot. We would roam about the world having splendid meals with fabulous wine and long conversations, and he would somehow know people everywhere we went and never lose his patience in the middle of an airport or if the hotel turned out to be rotten.
RT BOOK REVIEWS: We know that you're a big supporter of fan fiction and write fanfic yourself, what's a world/series you enjoy writing fanfic for?
Naomi Novik: I adore working in the Sherlock Holmes universe, and lately have been inspired to noodle on the Dragon Age games (and even play around with making cutscenes, which is like getting to have your fanfic acted out by the characters within the game).
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