This Alternate History series sets out to answer a vital question that has intrigued historians for centuries: 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. The series:
His Majesty's Dragon (2006) (Published as Temeraire in the UK), in which Laurence and Temeraire must adapt to the ways of Britain's Aerial Corps, and participate in their first battle to keep Bonaparte from seizing the British Isles.
Throne of Jade (2006). Temeraire, identified as a rare Chinese Celestial, is courted by a royal Chinese ambassador who wants him to return to the Middle Kingdom and is willing to separate him from Laurence to do so. While Temeraire learns about his true heritage, Laurence must untangle the motivations of the Chinese, without offending the single most powerful empire of the age...
Black Powder War (2006), in which Laurence and Temeraire, still in China, receive orders to visit Istanbul and obtain there three dragon eggs, purchased by the British government. After all, the war against Napoleon is going poorly, and three dragons might make all the difference. And then there is the matter of Lien, an albino Celestial who has decided Temeraire is her Arch-Enemy and will stop at nothing to see him defeated...
Empire of Ivory (2007), in which the reason for Britain's poor fortunes in the war become clear: her dragons, one and all, have caught an Incurable Cough of Death with no known cure. But after it becomes clear that Temeraire caught said illness during his voyage to China, and was cured of it using mushrooms unique to Africa, they are dispatched back in a furious, desperate quest to find more...
Victory of Eagles (2008), in which Laurence and Temeraire are separated in disgrace after the events of the previous novelnote In which the British Admiralty deliberately infected Napoleon's dragons with the plague, uncaring that it would then spread to all of Eurasia; Laurence and Temeraire committed treason to fly the cure to France, despite the war reaching a fever pitch. Napoleon has finally invaded, and Temeraire takes it into his head to organize as many dragons, even those unharnassed, for the most desperate battle Great Britain has ever faced.
Tongues of Serpents (2010), in which Laurence and Temeraire are Reassigned to Australia and attempt to make a new start for themselves on the new, wild continent.
Crucible of Gold (2012), in which Laurence is re-instated to help in the war against Napoleon. He has turned his sights on the Inca Empire and Brazil both, and only Laurence and Temeraire are near enough to help...
Blood of Tyrants (2013), in which Laurence and Temeraire attempt to travel to China to muster help against Napoleon's victories. But there are Chinese intrigues at play, not to mention other forces, and this may be Temeraire's most challenging mission yet...
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.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: Generally, any female aviator with a child. 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.
A Date with Rosie Palms: Early on in Black Powder War, Temeraire bathes in a mountain lake, and innocently reveals afterwards that he had a bit too much fun frolicking on the rocks in the water.
In His Majesty's Dragon, Laurence pets a young Temeraire's recently-sprouted facial tendrils, only to realise from his reaction that they are clearly an erogenous zone.
Aerith and Bob: Inverted with American dragons, who have perfectly normal names despite the more flowery names used elsewhere in the world.
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 opium as a trade tool against the Chinese government's desires. Likewise, the Ottoman Empire and Russia seem to be even worse than Britain.
Blood of Tyrants reveals that the President of the United States is Tecumseh, suggesting better relations between Native Americans and settlers.
Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: The dragons all come in a variety of colors and stripes, and the dragons in South American even come in colorful feathers. Chinese dragons, however, are noted for their uniform coloration.
Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Granby grows increasingly mortified by his lack of control over Iskierka as she does everything from outfit him in outrageous and impractical Bling of War to try and marry him off without his permission. He finally confronts her and tells her to behave more practically... and reminds her the greatest treasure he could ever want is her. She, in turn, insists that her efforts were for his benefit and not just because she wanted to show him off.
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.
Bilingual Bonus: There's not much, but occasionally there are snippets of a non-English language transcribed.
Blasť Boast: In the Encyclopedia Exposita piece from Black Powder War, the Reverend Salcombe humblebrags about his own puny accomplishments in draconic studies in comparison to the impressive depth of knowledge shown by Sir Edward Howe for a long paragraph...before launching into his "thesis", which insults everyone who doesn't think dragons are, in terms of intellect, roughly equivalent with a particularly intelligent dog.
This becomes a Brick Joke in the first chapter of the fifth book, when Salcombe visits Temeraire and can't Pythagorean Theorem his way into an interview.
Bling of War: The dragons take after the more Western stereotype of favoring gold, riches, and shiny things, and certainly appreciate a little sparkle to their battle gear. Victory of Eagles even has Temeraire convince some authority figures to give ranks to the dragons, as shown in the epaulettes stitched to their harnesses.
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; 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 and he gets a new one.
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.
Brutal Honesty: Most dragons are frank and straightforward, finding little or no reason to lie, although they understand obfuscation and omission. This causes Laurence a lot of embarrassment, when Temeraire just won't shut up about uncomfortable subjects.
Call Back: In Blood of Tyrants, Laurence ends up repeating the "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" speech from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar to a dragon, and remarks that there's a dragon present in the scene. This is a nod to the short story "Vici", where Mark Anthony becomes the first person in the western world to harness a dragon; albeit accidentally.
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 hatchling might turn out materialistic and appreciate a captain from a rich family.
Child Soldiers: The cadets, and almost certainly the midshipmen as well. Not much angst involved though; if anything, the profession would mean better prospects for the children, especially in the Corps, where most of the children are illegitimately-born or from lower standing.
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 were greatly reduced by it, and Edith called it off, even though she still liked him.
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 regarding a heavyweight trying to bully him: "My ancestors were scholars in China when his were starving 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.
Despair Event Horizon: In general, any captain or their dragon that loses the other. Many captains or dragons choose to even die with the other.
Laurence in Victory of Eagles.
Temeraire gets his earlier in the book, upon the (false) news that Laurence died on the Goliath.
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.
Blood Of Tyrants implies they didn't, as Emily laments not having done anything before they are to be separated.
Dope Slap: Temeraire was on the receiving end on one occasion (from another dragon, of course.)
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.
Dramatic Irony: Briefly in Victory of Eagles as Novik uses the Switching P.O.V. between Temeraire and Laurence, so while the reader knows Laurence isn't dead, Temeraire still thinks so. Blood of Tyrants, on the other hand, lives on this for a good 2 parts of the book, and it is brutal. One would expect so since Laurence doesn't remember the last 8 years of his life, so he has no idea he's an aviator, is Temeraire's captain, his best friend is dead, that he's a prince of China—Oh, and that he committed treason, an act that directly led to the invasion of England by Napolean.
Dream Team: Though they aren't always together, Temeraire's circle of friends includes some of the most intelligent, experienced, or dangerous dragons in the world.
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.
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.
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 alivenote 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: Temeraire, Laurence, their crew, and their companions, as they journey into various territories and are exposed to cultures often radically different from England.
Food Porn: From the second book onwards the series starts getting these descriptions as Temeraire becomes more critical of what he eats.
Fragile Speedster: The courier or lightweight class of dragons, who are often not called into war.
Frivolous Lawsuit: Laurence loses 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: Most dragons, emphasized the larger they get. Dragons often delight at thinking over mathematical problems, and can do complex computations without a need for pen and paper.
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.
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.
Glass Cannon: The Spanish Flecha-Del-Fuego breed is a lightweight class fire-breather.
Green-Eyed Monster: Dragons can get jealous very easily over another dragon's wealth, but they get especially jealous with the attentions of their captains. The spouses or other loved ones of aviators find that they also have to compete with the aviator's multi-tonne dragon for their attention.
Temeraire is this for part of Blood of Tyrants, but considering that at the time Laurence is suffering from amnesia and doesn't have as strong a bond with Temeraire, it's not surprising that he's over-reacting to anything that could separate them.
Iskierka appears to do this in Blood of Tyrants when Lung Qin Mei enters the scene in an attempt to breed a new Celestial companion for Mianning, but in her case she's more offended that her own egg from Temeraire is being passed over.
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.
Heroic BSOD: Laurence, during almost all of Victory of Eaglesas he struggles to deal with his actions in the last book and being called a traitor.
Laurence again, briefly, in Blood of Tyrants. He relearns, rather improperly from Temeraire, that he had committed treason during the 8-year window that is presently a gap in his memory. This knowledge nearly drives him over the edge, causing his comrades to become greatly concerned for his well-being. This, in turn, results in a Heroic BSOD for Temeraire: witnessing Laurence's reaction made him realize just how heavy a role he played in all the recent misfortunes in Laurence's life, making him believe that he is undeserving of Laurence as he only does him no good. A damn good thing that it doesn't stick for long after.
Historical Fantasy: Dragons in the Napoleonic Wars! There are some changes made to history (see Fix Fic, above) as a consequence.
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 Evilnote One of Britain's few strengths against Napoleon is her fleet, which is maintained by trade, which is maintained by slavery; in his opinion, undermining that fleet during wartime is suicidal, and Napoleon is described rather positively for being the Big Bad.
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 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.
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.
Laser-Guided Amnesia: Laurence in Blood of Tyrants, due to an injury sustained in a storm. At first he doesn't remember who he is, but he quickly remembers everything up to the point of harnessing Temeraire; as such, he thinks he's still Captain of the Reliant. He eventually begins to recover after locating Tharkay in China; whereupon he remembers his aid during Victory of Eagles.
Last Name Basis: All over the place, a given considering the setting. Absolutely everyone referse to Laurance by his last name, including his lover and Temeraire. The only exceptions are his family and people who have known him since childhood. And Granby.
Little Miss Badass: When attacked by bunyips in Australia, Emily Roland (thirteen at the time, mind), shoots one twice, calmly reloading, while the grown men with her run in fear.
Maligned Mixed Marriage: Tharkay's parents, a white man and an Asian woman, which results in Tharkay being ostracised from society.
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.
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. Though that said, they tend to be patriotic or loyal to societies that treat them as equals such as China (where a dragon can be Emperor), the Inca (where they're basically the ones in charge), Tswana (where dragons are seen as reincarnations of heroes and great chiefs), France (thanks in part to Napoleon's efforts) and the United States (where they've apparently been pulling off what's happening in France albeit for longer).
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.
Obstructive Bureaucrat: Unsurprisingly, given how generally racist and sexist British government and society were at the time.
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 Wellesley, as he directs the entire English counterpush without Laurence's involvement.
Oh Crap: Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz causes this in His Majesty's Dragon.
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.
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.
Replacement Scrappy: In-universe; Temeraire views Lieutenant Forthing as this and worse, after Lieutenant Ferris gets thrown out of the Aerial Corps.
Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Many (British, at least) 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. Given their capabilities (see Genius Bruiser) it can be implied that most dragons could probably be smarter than or just as smart as their captains if they applied themselves.
Saved by Canon: Regardless of what happens in Book Nine, we know that Sipho will survive the events of the series, as Empire of Ivory and Tongues of Serpents reveal he grows up to write huge books about Africa and Australia.
Temeraire would also appear to be quite safe, considering the author has plans to write a short story about him in his old age.
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.
Blood of Tyrants ends with Laurence and Temeraire trapped in an escalating war in Russia, with no way to feed their enormous dragon army as winter begins to set in.
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.
Throne of Jade mentions a historic dragon called "Lung Li Po"; the equivalent of the real-life poet Li Bai, only to then use the name Li Bai in Blood of Tyrants. This could be the result of an in-universe translation issue, however.
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 to avoid a conflict in succession. 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.
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.
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.
Tomboy: 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," so very much. All they seem to want to is get drunk, to the point of an almost suicidal desire to.
Granby basically tells them that they're going to get gutted once the dragons return from hunting. The ones too drunk 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 from trying to steal gold from the Inca buildings.
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 one in Crucible of Gold: From the Allegiance getting sunk by a fire, nearly dying in the flight away from the wreckage, his best friend actually dying in the wreckage, being rescued by a convenient but French dragon transport, getting marooned on an uncharted island by the same 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 and the other aviators to try and take control of the dragons.
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.
In Blood of Tyrants, Temeraire learns that his brother, the companion to the Crown Prince of China, has been murdered in a failed attempt to keep the Crown Prince off the throne.
What If?: Effectively, "What if the Napoleonic wars were fought with dragons!" In the beginning the world appears much the same, save for an added dimension to war and a few necessary societal changes. Over time we see more of the world and the way dragons would have affected the course of events, practically to the point of Off the Rails as far as real world history goes.
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. Blood of Tyrants suggests that the Americans have adopted a similar attitude to the French, although long before them.
What the Hell, Hero?: Captain/Admiral 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.