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:
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, currently estimating that the series will total nine books; the eighth, currently in progress, has a working name of Blood of Tyrants and an expected release on August 13, 2013.Peter Jackson has reportedly optioned the movie rights to the series. He has also been heard to debate airing them as a miniseries instead, to make it harder to be Cut Short (a problem that His Dark Materials, The Inheritance Cycle and even The Chronicles of Narnia fans can speak of from experience).
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.
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.
Fix Fic: To some of the worst tragedies of the imperialism. China is still powerful, the Tswana in Africa are perhaps the strongest nation in the world, the Inca in South America are likewise extremely formidable, the United States has colonists and natives working in harmony with dragons, and Australia casually declares independence and keeps it. Even Napoleon's reign in France is begrudgingly admitted by Laurence to be better than Britain's own government.
On the other hand, the British still control India and they're using cocaine as a trade tool against the Chinese government's desires. Likewise, the Ottoman Empire and Russia seem to be even worse than Britain.
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 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.
Kulingile is this by dragon standards, out-eating the other dragons in his group put together.
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 Jerk Ass 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; Jerk Ass 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.
Lien: ...I will not kill you, or your captain... I will see you bereft of all that you have, of home and happiness and beautiful things. I will see your nation cast down and your allies drawn away. I will see you as alone and friendless and wretched as am I; and then you may live as long as you like, in some dark and lonely corner of the earth, and I will call myself content.
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
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.
Can't Argue With Dragons: A plot point but ultimately subverted 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.
Inverted from the Chinese point of view in universe who don't approve of Temeraire fighting
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.
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.
Deathbringer the Adorable: Dragons tend to have grandiose names, due to their namers often being teenagers, that sometimes don't match with their personalities or sizes, such as a Winchester courier named "Devestatio." This can also devolve into Canis Latinicus; "Volatilus" is derived from the Latin word meaning "swift" or "winged" but isn't properly conjugated.
Fluffy the Terrible: Of course, then we have the alternative. Lily's name is short, not Latin, and fits her personality as one of the kindest and most affectionate dragons. She is also a Longwing, Britain's most deadly breed, with acid that eats through stone and flesh at a truly alarming rate. There's also "Kulingile," whose name means "all is well"... and is going to be, it is believed, the biggest dragon in all of Christendom. (Which puts him in the running for biggest dragon *period*, since other cultures aren't *quite* as obsessed with breeding for maximum size as the West.)
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.
Did They or Didn't They?: Emily and Demane in Crucible of Gold, after returning from finding the pirate ship and running headlong into the mutiny attempt. Emily never actually denies they did anything else besides explore the island.
The Ditz: Volatilus is a sweetie, but brains are not his strong point.
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.
There's a strong, and probably intentional, resemblance between the Royal Air Corps of this series and the bombers of World War II.
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.
Eagleland: 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.
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.
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, it is believed, less than two score alive*
it's actually eight
—and was meant to be Napoleon's personal steed. Of course, this raises the question of why China was sending a valuable and priceless dragon to France...
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...
Friendly Enemies: the French diplomat, De Guignes, has a polite and supportive relationship with Laurence, despite their being political enemies.
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)
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.
Indeed, one almost questions how the European humans ever became so utterly dominant over their dragons as to be able to dictate the social arrangement that we see at the beginning of the series - how did humans hold out against these superior fighters before, say, the invention of cannon? Perhaps Empire of Ivory was not the first time that a devastating plague nearly wiped out the dragons of Europe.
The thing is, that these dragons were especially bred for these particular qualities, using human know-how in animal husbandry. Wild dragons are comparatively tiny and for the most part stupid, so really it's a matter of the causal pathway going in the wrong direction.
And it should be pointed out that Perscitia is a lot smarter than him. How many humans could independently derive both the binomial theorem and the Pythagorean theorem? Temeraire himself had to be taught them.
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.
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.)
Half Breed Discrimination: 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.
Historical Hero Upgrade/Historical Villain Upgrade: Thoroughly subverted. 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, but it turns out that Nelson delays the outlawing of slavery, finding it a Necessary Evil*
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.
By the point of Crucible of Gold, when he takes it upon himself to flatly refuse to help a potential ally put down a slave rebellion, his fellow aviators more or less just shrug and go "Well, it's Laurence, what did you expect?"
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 Pizarro 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 Ivoryis strong enough to drive the European colonists and slavetraders clean out of sub-Saharan Africa. As noted below in the Meaningful Background Event entry, the Tswana eventually expand their anti-slavery campaign to 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. Celestials are definitely at least as intelligent as humans while others are on the dull-witted side. While Volatilus was specifically bred for speed at the expense of all else, we do get an example of dragons in a "state of nature" via Arkady and the ferals—who are light-weight, undisciplined and unambitious.
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. Awkwardness ensues, since Laurence can't correct the one without revealing the other.
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.
Jerk Ass: 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: While under charges of treason and sentence of death, Laurence takes an order to Leave No Survivors, but protects his subordinates from accusations of war crimes by having a general give them all signed orders that command them to do what Laurence tells them to, without specifics. This protects his crew by leaving only Laurence - already facing the ultimate penalty - as the only one responsible.
Kicked Upstairs: Emily Roland, after the events of the fourth book force her off of Temeraire's crew, is brought on by an unknown Captain Sanderson as a "Fifth Lookout." Since there are only four directions to look on a dragon, this makes her as necessary as feet on a fish. Small wonder she defects back to Laurence's command when she has the chance.
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 StupidandStupid 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, Kulingile, 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 heavyweight dragon. Not just heavyweight, either - one of the largest dragons anyone in the cast has ever seen. Maybe in the runnning to be the largest dragon ever, in fact.
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 Lad-ette 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 acid-strewing substitute 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 ("temerity" is the closest word in English).
Temeraire was also the name of a French ship that was captured and then used by the Royal Navy, much like Temeraire's egg. This is an Invoked Trope— that's exactly the meaning Laurence had in mind when he named the dragonet who crawled out of that captured shell.
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 — the 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.
Laurence's main objection to Napoleon seems to be that he is conquering the world, inflicting death and privation on millions, for no other reason that he can.
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."
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.
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 without Laurence's involvement.
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.
Pet the Dog: At the climax of the fourth book, only Napoleon seems to understand that Laurence has not betrayed England to aid France. Once he realizes that Laurence fully intends to return and face execution for his crime, he specifically instructs his troops to spare Laurence's family estate in the subsequent invasion of England.
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 thisRagtag 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.
Reasonable Authority Figure: Wellesley in Victory of Eagles, and to some degree, Napoleon in the short story about Lien's early time in France.
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. The Bunyips in Tongues of Serpents really do seem abhorrent, though.
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.
Sequel Hook: The first novel has one shoehorned in suddenly in the last chapter; the rest are handled better. Justified as the author was asked to make the novel into a series at the insistence of her editor.
There were earlier hints however in the first book if you looked closely and thought about it.
Series Continuity Error: A blink-and-you'll-miss-it one in book six; Laurence ends up talking with a pair of traders who mention news coming from Santiago in Chile. The next book reveals that the Incan Empire covers Santiago and the majority of present-day Chile.
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 his entailed estate, could use a (legitimate) son to help his chances of inheriting.
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.
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.
Spare to the Throne: Temeraire. His twin brother is the official dragon for the crown prince of China, and they wanted him (Temeraire) out of the picture. Celestials, by custom, have to be attached to emperors or an emperor's family member; well, Napoleon had just declared himself Emperor of France, right? Perfect.
Spoiled Brat: The Admiralty will do almost anything to hang onto heavyweight dragons and those with special abilities. This results in Iskierka's deep-seated belief that "I breathe fire, therefore I'm always right."
"I do not want to have an egg by you," Temeraire said, "in the least." "That is nonsense," Iskierka said, "why wouldn't you?"
Stalker with a Test Tube: Iskierka wants Temeraire for his genes, so that their child will have both firebreathing and the divine winds, though even 19th-century aviators, themselves hardly scientists, know that Dragons Do Not Work That Way.
Star Trek Movie Curse: inverted. The odd-numbered Temeraire books tend to be better received because they focus on the Napoleonic Wars, with the even-numbered ones revolving around travel and world-building—interesting things to be sure, but nowhere near as exciting. (This is also not to say that the even-numbered books are worse, merely that they are less liked.)
The Stations of the Canon: With the exception of the Battle of Dover, the first three books are basically the real Napoleonic Wars without especial alteration. But then the dragon plague sends things Off the Rails.
Straight Gay: Granby and Little are in a casual relationship.
Switching P.O.V.: From Victory of Eagles onward, the point of view is split roughly half and half between Laurence and Temeraire.
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.
Laurence eventually begrudgingly notes that it's more the dragons who own the captains, rather than the other way around.
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.
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.
Too Dumb to Live: The mutinying sailors in "Crucible of Gold." Granby basically tells they're going to get gutted once the dragons return from hunting. The ones too stupid to run once they spotted the dragons returning got mulched by an enraged Kulingile.
The remaining sailors show they learned nothing from the experience when they make it to Inca territory and have to be constantly watched to keep them from trying to steal gold from the Inca buildings.
Temeraire is so picky he gets sick of anything, so his favorite varies greatly. Nonetheless he loves elephant.
Maximus seems to be the exact opposite; preferring cows to any of the alternative foods - such as stew - introduced by Temeraire.
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.
He goes through another, even worse, one in Crucible of Gold: From from the Allegiance getting sunk by a fire, nearly dying in the flight away from the wreckage, being rescued by a convenient dragon transport, getting marooned on an uncharted island by the French crew who'd rescued them from the previous incident, to having most of the surviving sailors (most of whom were complicit in the fire that sank the Allegiance) mutiny and try to kidnap him, Granby and Demaine to try and take control of the dragons.
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…
Temeraire himself has some qualities of The Unfettered, although this may be more a case of True Neutral or even Blue and Orange Morality. He has no sentiment of patriotism (at least until his Character Development in the fifth book), no innate drive to be helpful toward humans he's never met, and no particular dislike of France or Napoleon. Like most of the dragons of England, he only helps the British to keep his humans happy. His efforts to reconcile his attitude and Laurence's for the sake of their friendship gives the series a philosophical aspect that few modern fantasy series have.
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.
Voice of the Legion: After Kulingile finally outgrows his young high-pitched voice, his voice is described as echoey and as if several people are talking at once.
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.
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?" Well, it turns out that when even a muscle-powered society can field an air force... Colonialism does not work well. 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.
It's also Fridge Brilliance in the case of the French. After all, the French Revolution espoused among others the motto "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity". What Napoleonic France does is simply extend that same Republican ideal to Dragons. And given that said Dragons were considered devils in traditionalist lore, it could be considered as a systematic Take That against the old order.
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 Eagles – attacking 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.