Okay, I get the whole In Spite of a Nail aspect but... how on Earth is the whole Woman Dragon Rider bit still a state secret? Liz Tudor figured out the Longwing problem over two centuries earlier, and despite the whole subculture aspect there has to be at least a few in the Dragon Corps who communicate with their families on the outside even presuming no leaks in the Court/Government/Admirality for all this time. I can see it still being an embarrassing scandal not spoken of in polite company and subject to ribald jokes in rude company, but the utter shock and ignorance the Rolands and Captain Harcourt's very existence are met with surprises me.
Never underestimate how far ignorance can stretch, especially in periods where even traveling a few miles from one's home town was a rare thing. It's one thing to hear about X from a friend or by reading it in the news, and another to actually confront X in person. Besides, as you said, those who do know still prefer not to talk about it.
Not to mention that many who didn't have direct contact with a female captain would simply dismiss it because obviously that wouldn't be proper behavior for a woman, even one associated with the Air Corps.
All of this is well taken but...no letters to family? No loose-tongued parlimentarians? No casualties picked up by Army or Navy personnel? For over two centuries with a couple of civil wars and multiple coups? Kinda stretches things a little.
In the current series there are about 300 dragons in England's Air Corp and that's mentioned to be the largest it has ever been. It's fairly likely that there haven't been much more than a few hundred female captains, period. In Victory of Eagles one of the oldest dragons actually still remembers when female captains finally became a thing. Add in the fact that up until Jane, none of them had ever had any extreme level of rank in the Corp, and the natural inclinations of society to just refuse to gossip about these things, and it's entirely plausible.
It's not really a matter of "no one's ever seen a female captain." Because, clearly, every so often somebody does, as is repeatedly shown and referred to in the books. The difference is, people are generally not told that this is a (relatively) commonplace, necessary practice. As long as the individual sightings are kept few and far between, it's easy for them to be handwaved away, in in-universe terms. I.e., if someone tells the story, his listeners assume he's just telling tall tales; or the captain is assumed to be an exceptional, Joan of Arc type person; or they just think it's someone's mistress dressed up in uniform, or whatever else. Parliament doesn't know. The Admiralty probably didn't know until 'recently' (they certainly have a lot of trouble with Jane Roland reporting to them as an admiral). And all this is a time period where something could actually be an "open secret," in that it was simply improper to talk about in polite company. You know what you saw, and I know what you saw, but we can never actually discuss what we saw....
Also, as of the fourth book there are only three harnessed Longwings in all of Britain. That's three female captains in the entire corps, which doesn't interact much with society at all.
Not quite. It's mentioned that there are a few other species that will only accept a female captains; it's just that Longwings are the most important. The other species are presumably light/medium-weights that don't come up much.
I know that it is just part of the way that this story is written, but the Woobie status of Laurence is just a bit too much at times. Why does he have to have all the bad stuff happening to him! And I know that future plot will probably turn this around but still, it bugs me. Even if he is fictional, sometimes it's just too much for me.
For the sake of your own mental health, never pick up The Dresden Files. It's a good series, but, man, actually committing treason and then getting a lenient sentence for it would be a good week for Harry.
That's the price you pay for being a fictional protagonist. If there's any shit flying around, it will land on you.
The Harcourt being pregnant via Captain Riley plot in the later books kinda annoyed me. In the end it seemed pretty pointless.
I found it an amusing inversion of the usual "Shotgun Wedding" plot - due to somewhat contrived circumstances and the rules of this fictional world, she couldn't care less about propriety while he couldn't have illegitimate children running around. Not the most important thing, just an illustration of the difference between this world (or at least, the culture of the Aerial Corps) and Real Life.
I haven't checked a map from the time period yet (the borders would be different than in the modern day), but how exactly does a dragon fly from the Ottoman Empire (around Turkey) to Austria overnight?
At the time, the Danube was the border between the two.
One thing that's bugged me for a while is dragon travel times. IIRC, it's mentioned at some point that Temeraire can fly at about 35 miles per hour, which is on the fast side for dragons. This would make overland flight a hell of a lot faster than it's shown to be in the books. For example, their trip back across Australia at the end of Tongues of Serpents is said to take two months, which is ridiculous. From the description given, it sounds like their starting point was near modern-day Darwin. This gives them a distance of about 1400 miles in a straight line, which is what they were doing. That's 40 hours of flight time. That shouldn't have taken them two weeks!
I thought they had to wait in hiding on occasion to avoid troops or something.
Not at that point. In fact, they would have wanted to stay in the air as much as possible, since on the ground they had to worry about Bunyips.
First of all, according to Google Maps the most direct route from modern-day Darwin to New South Wales is 2,380 miles. That's by road rather than as the dragon flies, so Temeraire's route would be a little shorter, but I doubt it would have been 1,000 miles shorter. (I could be wrong, I don't know, I've never been to Oz myself.) And as for their route, I don't have the book in front of me, but their route from New South Wales to modern-day Darwin wasn't a straight line, they detoured by Uluru, so if they retraced their original route that would have made it almost twice as long as the straight-line route. So let's take the median and assume a 2,380-mile route. Second, the average speed for the entire trip would have been much slower than Temeraire's maximum speed. He can't carry the men, the equipment and the other dragons at his maximum speed; the other dragons would fly separately, so the top speed of the whole group is the top speed of the slowest of those. Two are barely newborns, one was deformed and just recently learned to fly at all, and none of them are particularly well-disciplined or cooperative, so overall their top speed will probably be around half Temeraire's, or 17.5 miles per hour. And while Temeraire can fly around the clock, he gets tired, and so do the men. And on this return trip they weren't in hot pursuit; they had important messages to carry but it wasn't an immediate life-or-death thing, so they wouldn't have pushed themselves too hard. So assume that they'd only fly eight hours a day and the rest of the time would be spent resting or foraging for food or water. (By this time they had figured out how to placate the bunyips without a fight, which makes the trip safer but slower.) That's more than two weeks right there, assuming a 2,380-mile route. To summarize, they probably could have made the trip in a bit less time than two months, but any less than one month would have been pushing it hard indeed for the young dragons.
I'm not up to doing the maths, but just to confirm that they don't take a straight-line route on the way back. They take it in stages, flying from major landmark to major landmark, Darwin to Uluru to Lake Eyre to Sydney, which takes them quite a distance out of the direct route.
Dragons eat far too much to maintain a sustainable food supply for any country that doesn't have magical cloning powers. It's the only part of the series that truly, truly bugs me. A dragon needs a cow's worth of meat at least every two days. That's 182 cows worth of meat each year PER dragon, of which there are a sizable population.
Thinking about this, ocean fishing could mitigate the dragon population's food concerns down to reasonable levels, but very few of the dragons are shown fishing when to keep a sustainable population of dragons that would need to be their primary food source.
Actually, it may not be. The population of dragons in England as of the early 1800s isn't that high, with a peak (I believe) of 200 or so including ferals. Even assuming that they each required the same amount of food—which they don't—that's 36,400 cows' worth of food per year. According to Google, as of 2004 there were approximately 2 million cows in the UK. I don't know the history of cattle in the UK, but even if their herds were just 5% the size they are now, they'd still have 100,000 cows. That seems to be more than enough for separate populations of cattle for dragon consumption, human consumption, dairy, and breeding. Of course, these numbers don't take into account the other livestock (i.e. pigs and sheep) that dragons eat, Using the same 5% numbers for those herds, we get an additional 1.8 million sheep and 250,000 pigs. Personally, I think that 5% number is likely to be on the low end of livestock population of the early 1800s, but in any case, it's still sustainable.
To say nothing of the fact that in a universe with dragons, the cattle industry might be larger than it was in real life to cope with increased demand.
Its also stated in the in universe essay at the end of Tongue of Serpents that China in part owes its larger dragon population to its ability to feed its dragons.
Why do the dragons allow themselves to be treated like pets and draft animals? I mean, would they not find it degrading if they openly heard some aviators casually discuss breeding dragons for certain traits in front of them?
They don't seem to mind the breeding discussion because dragons have no real sense of family, only friends and acquaintances. There is no parent-child bond amongst dragons since dragons think of baby dragons as able to survive on their own, quite a bit like a lot of species of real-life reptiles. The only dragons in the series who have a concept of familial loyalty are the Chinese royalty .
And even them are more preoccupied by how their "royal blood" is used and property than Temeraire itself. And why they allow to be treated as animals...simply, culture. It's what is proper in their land and their captains and dragons are nothing but extremely adaptative. The same reason why Chinese dragons are the quintessential Nobles, Polish dragons mock Temeraire's "soft preferences," and why Tswana dragons act as the reincarnation of deceased warriors, down to the point that Mokhachane declared a World War to liberate her "subdites". Dragons, for all their intelligence and deadliness, are defined by the very humans they bond and is the only way they improve and change. Take, for example, the ferals to see how a "natural" dragon would act and is a far cry from even the English dragons. Also remember Temeraire's POV with the eggs, before and after they hatched.
Also, remember that most dragons don't know any other life than being treated as they do. After going to Napoleon, Lien is highly offended that several heavyweights are sent to her with the hope that she'll breed with them, so it's probably an upbringing thing.
Or you can take it another way; humans are social animals, but dragons are largely solitary creatures in the wild, living in small clans with an alpha male or alone. It makes a measure of sense that Dragons aren't quite as intuitive at social situations, but they grasp complex math immediately and are expert tacticians. Not too much of a stretch to say Dragons just stick with the society that they grew up with because it's all they understand without getting confused (Temeraire's confusion with property and then difficulty explaining it later are good examples).
I think I might need a genetics primer. I'm pretty sure I understand how the Imperial-Celestial thing works (Celestial genes are recessive, so you'd need two Imperials with the presumably rare trait to have even a one in four chance of giving birth to a Celestial). What I don't get is why Temeraire can't give eggs to any other breed of dragon. Are Celestials and Imperials different enough that they're an entirely separate species?
I personally think Temeraire might be infertile.
That may be, but if he is it's not typical of Celestials. The old one from Throne of Jade is mentioned as having sired all the others, and Qian produced Temeraire.
I always assumed that different dragon types were different species, not breeds as people called them. The ones in Europe may represent one species in a genus while those in China represent another. Temeraire is probable the first Chinese dragon to ever be in Europe, so how would people know that a breeding with him wouldn't work?
As of Crucible of Gold it has been stated (secondhand and originally from Lien so it may be questionable) that Celestials can't breed with non-Chinese dragon breeds, if not further limited to only Celestial/Imperial parings
I always assumed that it was less "can't" and more "hadn't yet." Not all matings result in offspring, after all.
Blood of Tyrants confirms that Temeraire can have an egg with a non-Imperial, non-Chinese dragon; the Chinese understanding on the subject is apparently not correct.
Okay, am I the only one who thinks that China in the books is a Mary Sue? I'm not sure what the standard of living was like in our world's China in the early 19th Century, but the fact that it's the ONLY nation stated to not treat its dragons like crap, and have a relatively high standard of living just seems a little off. Not to mention Temeraire constantly reminding us in the later books about how much better everything is in China. It seems to me like they could easily beat any of the European powers in an instant if it came to actual warfare. Seriously, Prince Yongxing is the only Chinese character I can remember who is portrayed negatively in the entire series. This is probably why Throne of Jade is my least favourite book out of all of them.
China isn't the only place where dragons are treated better and/or have a higher living standard than in our timeline. In Africa they are honored "elders" and drove the colonists out (the big empire isn't that different, see for example the Oyu Empire, only bigger because dragons allow faster communication), Japan is mentioned somewhere to be similiar to China, South America thwarted the conquistadores, and in North America the natives control more land than normally at that point in time. France has made some progress in the right direction, too (which is also not that far-fetched. While Napoleon was power hungry and turned most parts of Europe into a war zone, he also brought some improvements with him, like the Code Napoleon. China isn't a Mary Sue, Europe's real advantage, technologic advancement is just somewhat negated through the use of large numbers of dragons. But as soon as cannons and rifles can reliably kill a dragon fast, Europe will be able to win against those tactics, too. If anything the book series is a Take That! against a Europe that tried to colonize everything it could get its hands on.
Also, while Temeraire considers China to be superior to anywhere else, that's likely because it was the first place they went to where dragons were treated like people and not war beasts that couldn't be permitted to mingle with society. It's not a perfect place, either - Laurence specifically notes that there are dragons who aren't very well off at all. Temeraire doesn't see the poor dragons and Laurence doesn't bring it up, so Temeraire just views China as a place where dragons can be independent and make their own lives. It's also likely he's being taken to well-off areas to begin with, being a Celestial that the Chinese want to convince to stay in China. Why would they take him anywhere they couldn't be reasonably certain he'd see only the best they have to offer?
Why does Jane Roland become an admiral? —More accurately, why does the Aerial Corps use naval ranks? (Then again, We Are All American, and Yanks with Tanks give landlubber ranks to their air force. Maybe I'm biased.)
As a dragon requiring a fair-sized crew and a captain is quite akin to a ship, it makes sense that the Corps uses naval ranks. A naval-type organisation would probably be much more efficient than an army-type one.
Precisely, it's a case of where the forces came from. In real life the Royal Air Force was heavily influenced by the army since it was formed in WW1 to support their trench warfare. Conversely the US Air Force didn't really become a separate service until WW2 where it was more heavily influenced by the navy since it was heavily involved in the Pacific Theater. Now in the Temeraire series the Air Corps is being formed much earlier at a time when the Royal Navy is very much the premier service for England and at a time when its primary mission is to support the Navy by guarding the channel. So combine that with the fact that a Naval organization makes a lot more sense for Dragons anyway and it makes sense that the Royal Navy would be the force that had the most influence on the development of the Air Corps.
I don't mean to get into lift-to-mass ratios too much, but Novik's dragons don't have the usual draconic answers of blatant magic or telekinesis:; they seem to operate under conventional physical laws. Their torsos contain chambers of lighter-than-air gas in the style of the dragons from 'The Book Of Dragons' - possibly hydrogen, which might explain why firebreathers are relatively rare... However, their lifting capacities seem staggeringly high for any 'natural' gas. Temeraire, who masses roughly 20 tons and is in the middle range of heavyweights, is said to have a maximum capacity of 200 people or thereabouts. That's 200 soldiers, who are presumably travelling with full field kit. They're unlikely to weigh less than 200 pounds apiece - that's well over twenty tons before we start adding the weight of harness and luggage. In other words, these dragons can stay airborne while carrying slightly over 100% of their own body weight. Anyone care to speculate how?
Probably an error in your assumptions; Victory of Eagles includes several mentions of dragons moving artillery and troops. While 200 is balls out emergency, Temeraire in combat rig carries 100 people, and most heavyweights can manage that or a little more, which they only do in short spurts with rests. They also can only manage a handful of cannons, but that might be due to dispersed weight versus concentrated weight. With that said, what seems to be the case with Kulingile (the best example of air sacs yet) is that dragons concentrate hydrogen in their air sacs and can control the actual amount of lift their air sacs give. When Kulingile first demonstrates this, he has difficulty staying to the ground, and Dorset briefly mentions this is common for the heaviest weights as well. In addition it seems their wing spans (uniformly pretty massive for depictions of dragons, even small dragons have large wing spans) help a lot with lift; they might act in a similar manner to that of an aerofoil.
Crucible of Gold confirms the release and intake of air to dive and rise; Temeraire narrates a duel and describes the dragons as "letting out their air", which is something that Laurence or other human characters probably wouldn't pick up on.
From the way it's described in the books I think that 20 tons is the net weight in atmosphere, not mass. Consider that an elephant weighs around 7 tons and is small enough that Temeraire can eat one in a single sitting. So Temeraire probably masses significantly more than 20 tons it's just that due to the lighter than air gas sacs his net weight is around 20 tons.
Mass and weight calculations don't work like that. An F-22 that weighs 21 tons on the ground, doesn't weigh less in the air just because it's being kept aloft by air pressure. The same goes for balloons and zeppelins. We can use math, not conjecture, to answer the question. Hydrogen can lift approx 13.39 times it's own weight in pounds. So to carry 40,000lbs of men, Temeraire would need to use at least 2987 lbs of hydrogen. Of course, he himself weighs 40,000lbs, so double that to 5975 lbs of hydrogen. And that's not counting the weight of his own crew and harness. This is COMPLETELY unfeasible. To put this in perspective, the Hindenburg itself was only able to transport 21,076lbs. So...magic?
Why are Longwings called Longwings, and not...I dunno...Acid-Spitters-Of-Death? I get that their wings are the longest, but their acid is what really sets them apart from other species. And it's not even like the acid is a secret.
There are other acid spitters, including wild ones in England. Longwings were probably dubbed that after breeding programs, to distinguish them from other acid spitters.
Plus the breeding program that produced them was based around several species including the Russian Ironwing. The name Longwing was probably at least partially derived from that ("It looks kind of like an Ironwing with longer wings doesn't it chaps?").
If you really want to convince a young girl to regard an egg as a future lifelong companion, a name that indicates the dragon's primary function will be to melt enemies alive is not necessarily good P.R. (Depending on the girl, of course.)
It should be noted that the Longwings' wingspan are not just noticeable but are the most obvious feature at a distance (to the point where they cannot be mistaken for anything else and no other breeds known in Europe can hope to impersonate them.
I haven't read the whole series, so this may be explained in later books, but how come the Napoleonic wars in the Temeraire universe are relatively close to the way they played out in real world, to the extent of having numerous historical characters with the same names and the same roles and many of the battles occurring at the same places, yet China, Africa and South America are radically different? To clarify, the oddity is not that China (for example) is different if dragons exist - it obviously would be - but how on earth could a Europe which had dragons in it and all the radical changes to history and society that would imply still have resulted in (again taking just one of many possible examples) a bloke called Arthur Wellesley being born around 1769 who duly becomes the Duke of Wellington? It's like the Western European part of the Temeraire alternative world is chained to our timeline, but the rest of the world is free to diverge.
Presumably it's that way because that's how the author wants it to be. The series doesn't present a truly alternate history, it presents a history that is basically the same as our own except for the inclusion of dragons. Of course it's unrealistic but then so are dragons.
I understand what you're saying - imperialism and, for that matter, teatime should have worked out entirely differently. I appreciate that the MST3K Mantra is a bit frustrating to have cited at you, but an alternate dragon-history starting from before the Stone Age would have resulted in a virtually unrecognizable world (and there are a couple other book series out there which take on such a project.)
How did Temeraire and Ishkierka do the nasty on a crowded dragondeck without anybody noticing?
Their matings took place while they were crossing South America, a continent which we can safely presume is large enough to provide a certain measure of privacy.
To be more precise, they mated towards the end of chapter 13 of Crucible of Gold. It's coached in Regency-era euphemisms, but easy to see once you notice it. Iskierka and Temeraire briefly discuss that the only reason Temeraire hasn't had an egg yet is because he hasn't tried it with the right sort of dragon, and then Iskierka mentions she'd like a snack first. One scene change later, it's mentioned that she had lit a fire so the llamas they caught could cook while they "finished their business" (narration's words, not mine). Iskierka even points out a private, out-of-the-way valley.
Why aren't infantry and naval units more adapted to combat dragons? I mean real weapons, not those laughably ineffective pepper guns. I understand that the series takes place in the middle of the Industrial Era, but there is no way that any respectable army, after centuries of having to contend with massive flying beasts that travel at 35mph at their fastest, wouldn't have some kind of effective countermeasure. For perspective, the English developed their coastal AAA defenses BEFORE the outbreak of WWI, when aircraft truly became a direct threat. Seems like an awful oversight to me.
Effective countermeasures such as what? Given that this is early 1800's, the state of firearms and artillery is still black-powder single-shot firearms and cannons. The Gatling gun won't be invented for another five decades at least; the machine gun for another seven to eight (the Hiram machine gun, in 1884). Additionally, when the obvious way to fight dragons is with dragons, exactly how much valuable treasury funding would any government provide to anti-aircraft research?
I imagine it would be like the advent of tank and electronic warfare; you start making a counter as soon as possible, and perfecting it as much as you can. The second the enemy starts using dragons offensively, is the same second you start coming up with ways to defeat it. Particularly in England, where their air forces have been out numbered for years. They could use high elevation mortars with fuse lit grenades lined with heavy ball bearings (both historically used) as makeshift flak. Flechette canisters could be used to increase range and piercing power. Specialized infantry units could carry separate pieces of light, team-operated field guns (similar to infantry mortar systems) to defend against close passes. It's all feasible; the possibilities are endless.
I believe the usual countermeasure was to acquire dragon eggs and breed some dragons of your own. Better ones.
Has no one noticed how there is a huge hole in the worldbuilding in terms of an alternate timeline when it comes to China? The books essentially treat Chinese history (which is currently set during the Qing dynasty) as having happened as normal, just with dragons thrown into the mix. But if Celestials are required to legitimize an Emperor and their rule, then how does she explain the parade of different dynasties that overthrew and replaced their predecessors? Because most, if not all, of the dynasties were founded in very bloody ways. If the preceding and succeeding dynasties both had dragons, then wouldn't dynastial overthrows essentially be civil wars amongst the dragons? The Qing dynasty also had a double issue in that it was founded by the Manchu, which the Han majority population had antipathy against as barbarians due to historical trends where central China was harassed by nomadic marauders from outer China. It's why the length of the Manchu rule is pointed at as both a success and failure since the strict controls the Manchu put in place to make sure they weren't culturally assimilated into the ethnic Han culture and keep their superior social status also caused China to lose its flexibility and fall back in terms of innovation, leading to the weakening of China. At first, I thought that maybe Naomi Novik was handwaving that the dynasty ruling China was unbroken in lineage and completely different from the historical dynasties of Imperial China but she makes enough mention of Qing dynasty-specific traits like the Eight Banners. So the real life historical Manchu already had issues with a Han Chinese populace that could be rebellious if they weren't careful, much less the instability of the whole situation with the Celestial dragons.
The reason I point out that the Qing dynasty is a government of an ethnic minority is because the Imperial family being of Manchu culture leads to two plot holes that might or might not be nitpicks. One is that Lien's white color being seen as an ominous hue would be true. But in Han Chinese culture. That's because Han Chinese tradition associates white as the color of mourning where people wear white in specific ways to show that they had a death in the family, etc. The Manchu actually liked white as a color and didn't have the same connotations of grief or mourning with it, probably due to their roots as nomadic hunters. So they would use and wear white a lot more casually than the majority Han population would. There wouldn't nearly be so much superstition and wariness— Lien's color might have even be appreciated by Manchu eyes!
Two, though Han characters and Mandarin was used for official communications, the Manchu and especially the Imperial family spoke and wrote Manchu. This is why the signboards of the various pavilions in the Forbidden City used both Han characters and Manchu script. The Manchu script is alphabet-based and would bear a similar learning process to other alphabet-based languages like Arabic or Latin versus the ideograph-based system of Han characters. But the book only mentioned Temeraire learning the different characters and brush strokes for Han characters.