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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

“A new writer is soaring on the wings of a dragon.”
–The New York Times

“Enthralling reading–it’s like Jane Austen playing Dungeons & Dragons with Eragon’s Christopher Paolini.”
–Time, on His Majesty’s Dragon


Tragedy has struck His Majesty’s Aerial Corps, whose magnificent fleet of fighting dragons and their human captains valiantly defend England’s shores against the encroaching armies of Napoleon Bonaparte. An epidemic of unknown origin and no known cure is decimating the noble dragons’ ranks–forcing the hopelessly stricken into quarantine. Now only Temeraire and a pack of newly recruited dragons remain uninfected–and stand as the only means of an airborne defense against France’s ever bolder sorties.
Bonaparte’s dragons are already harrowing Britain’s ships at sea. Only one recourse remains: Temeraire and his captain, Will Laurence, must take wing to Africa, whose shores may hold the cure to the mysterious and deadly contagion. On this mission there is no time to waste, and no telling what lies in store beyond the horizon or for those left behind to wait, hope, and hold the line.


“A gripping adventure full of rich detail and the impossible wonder of gilded fantasy.”
–Entertainment Weekly, on His Majesty’s Dragon

“A thrilling fantasy . . . All hail Naomi Novik.”
–The Washington Post Book World, on His Majesty’s Dragon

Excerpt

Chapter 1

Send up another, damn you, send them all up, at once if you have to,” Laurence said savagely to poor Calloway, who did not deserve to be sworn at: the gunner was firing off the flares so quickly his hands were scorched black, skin cracking and peeling to bright red where some powder had spilled onto his fingers; he was not stopping to wipe them clean before setting each flare to the match.

One of the little French dragons darted in again, slashing at Temeraire’s side, and five men fell screaming as a piece of the makeshift carrying-harness unraveled. They vanished at once beyond the lantern-light and were swallowed up in the dark; the long twisted rope of striped silk, a pillaged curtain, unfurled gently in the wind and went billowing down after them, threads trailing from the torn edges. A moan went through the other Prussian soldiers still clinging desperately to the harness, and after it followed a low angry muttering in German.

Any gratitude the soldiers might have felt for their rescue from the siege of Danzig had since been exhausted: three days flying through icy rain, no food but what they had crammed into their pockets in those final desperate moments, no rest but a few hours snatched along a cold and marshy stretch of the Dutch coast, and now this French patrol harrying them all this last endless night. Men so terrified might do anything in a panic; many of them had still their small-arms and swords, and there were more than a hundred of them crammed aboard, to the less than thirty of Temeraire’s own crew.

Laurence swept the sky again with his glass, straining for a glimpse of wings, an answering signal. They were in sight of shore, the night was clear: through his glass he saw the gleam of lights dotting the small harbors all along the Scottish coast, and below heard the steadily increasing roar of the surf. Their flares ought to have been plain to see all the way to Edinburgh; yet no reinforcements had come, not a single courier-beast even to investigate.

“Sir, that’s the last of them,” Calloway said, coughing through the grey smoke that wreathed his head, the flare whistling high and away. The powder-flash went off silently above their heads, casting the white scudding clouds into brilliant relief, reflecting from dragon scales in every direction: Temeraire all in black, the rest in gaudy colors muddied to shades of grey by the lurid blue light. The night was full of their wings: a dozen dragons turning their heads around to look back, their gleaming pupils narrowing; more coming on, all of them laden down with men, and the handful of small French patrol-dragons darting among them.

All seen in the flash of a moment, then the thunderclap crack and rumble sounded, only a little delayed, and the flare dying away drifted into blackness again. Laurence counted ten, and ten again; still there was no answer from the shore.

Emboldened, the French dragon came in once more. Temeraire aimed a swipe which would have knocked the little Pou-de-Ciel flat, but his attempt was very slow, for fear of dislodging any more of his passengers; their small enemy evaded with contemptuous ease and circled away to wait for his next chance.

“Laurence,” Temeraire said, looking round, “where are they all? Victoriatus is in Edinburgh; he at least ought to have come. After all, we helped him, when he was hurt; not that I need help, precisely, against these little dragons,” he added, straightening his neck with a crackle of popping joints, “but it is not very convenient to try and fight while we are carrying so many people.”

This was putting a braver face on the situation than it deserved: they could not very well defend themselves at all, and Temeraire was taking the worst of it, bleeding already from many small gashes along his side and flanks, which the crew could not bandage up, so cramped were they aboard.

“Only keep everyone moving towards the shore,” Laurence said; he had no better answer to give. “I cannot imagine the patrol will pursue us over land,” he added, but doubtfully; he would never have imagined a French patrol could come so near to shore as this, either, without challenge; and how he should manage to disembark a thousand frightened and exhausted men under bombardment he did not like to contemplate.

“I am trying; only they will keep stopping to fight,” Temeraire said wearily, and turned back to his work. Arkady and his rough band of mountain ferals found the small stinging attacks maddening, and they kept trying to turn around mid-air and go after the French patrol-dragons; in their contortions they were flinging off more of the hapless Prussian soldiers than the enemy could ever have accounted for. There was no malice in their carelessness: the wild dragons were unused to men except as the jealous guardians of flocks and herds, and they did not think of their passengers as anything more than an unusual burden; but with malice or none, the men were dying all the same. Temeraire could only prevent them by constant vigilance, and now he was hovering in place over the line of flight, cajoling and hissing by turns, encouraging the others to hurry onwards.

“No, no, Gherni,” Temeraire called out, and dashed forward to swat at the little blue-and-white feral: she had dropped onto the very back of a startled French Chasseur-Vocifère: a courier-beast of scarcely four tons, who could not bear up under even her slight weight and was sinking in the air despite the frantic beating of its wings. Gherni had already fixed her teeth in the French dragon’s neck and was now worrying it back and forth with savage vigor; meanwhile the Prussians clinging to her harness were all but drumming their heels on the heads of the French crew, crammed so tightly not a shot from the French side could fail of killing one of them.

In his efforts to dislodge her, Temeraire was left open, and the Pou-de-Ciel seized the fresh opportunity; this time daring enough to make an attempt at Temeraire’s back. His claws struck so near that Laurence saw the traces of Temeraire’s blood shining black on the curved edges as the French dragon lifted away again; his hand tightened on his pistol, uselessly.

“Oh, let me, let me!” Iskierka was straining furiously against the restraints which kept her lashed down to Temeraire’s back. The infant Kazilik would soon enough be a force to reckon with; as yet, however, scarcely a month out of the shell, she was too young and unpracticed to be a serious danger to anyone besides herself. They had tried as best they could to secure her, with straps and chains and lecturing, but the last she roundly ignored, and though she had been but irregularly fed these last few days, she had added another five feet of length overnight: neither straps nor chains were proving of much use in restraining her.

“Will you hold still, for all love?” Granby said despairingly; he was throwing his own weight against the straps to try and pull her head down. Allen and Harley, the young lookouts stationed on Temeraire’s shoulders, had to go scrambling out of the way to avoid being kicked as Granby was dragged stumbling from side to side by her efforts. Laurence loosened his buckles and climbed to his feet, bracing his heels against the strong ridge of muscle at the base of Temeraire’s neck. He caught Granby by the harness-belt when Iskierka’s thrashing swung him by again, and managed to hold him steady, but all the leather was strung tight as violin strings, trembling with the strain.

“But I can stop him!” she insisted, twisting her head sidelong as she tried to work free. Eager jets of flame were licking out of the sides of her jaws as she tried once again to lunge at the enemy dragon, but their Pou-de-Ciel attacker, small as he was, was still many times her size and too experienced to be frightened off by a little show of fire; he only jeered, backwinging to expose all of his speckled brown belly to her as a target in a gesture of insulting unconcern.

“Oh!” Iskierka coiled herself tightly with rage, the thin spiky protrusions all over her sinuous body jetting steam, and then with a mighty heave she reared herself up on her hindquarters. The straps jerked painfully out of Laurence’s grasp, and involuntarily he caught his hand back to his chest, the numb fingers curling over in reaction. Granby had been dragged into mid-air and was dangling from her thick neck-band, vainly, while she let loose a torrent of flame: thin and yellow-white, so hot the air about it seemed to twist and shrivel away, it made a fierce banner against the night sky.

But the French dragon had cleverly put himself before the wind, coming strong and from the east; now he folded his wings and dropped away, and the blistering flames were blown back against Temeraire’s flank. Temeraire, still scolding Gherni back into the line of flight, uttered a startled cry and jerked away while sparks scattered over the glossy blackness of his hide, perilously close to the carrying-harness of silk and linen and rope.

“Verfluchtes Untier! Wir werden noch alle verbrennen,” one of the Prussian officers yelled hoarsely, pointing at Iskierka, and fumbled with shaking hand in his bandolier for a cartridge.

“Enough there; put up that pistol,” Laurence roared at him through the speaking-trumpet; Lieutenant Ferris and a couple of the topmen hurriedly unlatched their harness-straps and let themselves down to wrestle it out of the officer’s hands. They could only reach the fellow by clambering over the other Prussian soldiers, however, and while too afraid to let go of the harness, the men were obstructing their passage in every other way, thrusting out elbows and hips with abrupt jerks, full of resentment and hostility.

Lieutenant Riggs was giving orders, distantly, towards the rear; “Fire!” he shouted, clear over the increasing rumble among the Prussians; the handful of rifles spoke with bright powder-bursts, sulfurous and bitter. The French dragon made a little shriek and wheeled away, flying a little awkward: blood streaked in rivulets from a rent in his wing, where a bullet had by lucky chance struck one of the thinner patches around the joint and penetrated the tough, resilient hide.

The respite came late; some of the men were already clawing their way up towards Temeraire’s back, snatching at the greater security of the leather harness to which the aviators were hooked by their carabiner straps. But the harness could not take all their weight, not so many of them: if the buckles stretched open, or some straps gave way, and the whole began to slide, it would entangle Temeraire’s wings and send them all plummeting into the ocean together.
Naomi Novik|Author Q&A

About Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik - Empire of Ivory

Photo © Beth Gwinn

Naomi Novik is the acclaimed author of His Majesty’s Dragon, Throne of Jade, Black Powder War, Empire of Ivory, Victory of Eagles, Tongues of Serpents, Crucible of Gold, and Blood of Tyrants, the first eight volumes of the Temeraire series. She has been nominated for the Hugo Award and has won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, as well as the Locus Award for Best New Writer and the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel. She is also the author of the graphic novel Will Supervillains Be on the Final?
 
Fascinated with both history and legends, Novik is a first-generation American raised on Polish fairy tales and stories of Baba Yaga. Her own adventures include pillaging degrees in English literature and computer science from various ivory towers, designing computer games, and helping to build the Archive of Our Own for fanfiction and other fanworks. Novik is a co-founder of the Organization for Transformative Works.
 
She lives in New York City with husband and Hard Case Crime founder Charles Ardai and their daughter, Evidence, surrounded by an excessive number of purring computers.

Author Q&A

Del Rey: First of all, congratulations on winning the 2007 John W. Campbell Award for best new writer. It must have been an incredible experience not just to win but to be there in Japan to accept the honor.


Naomi Novik: It was amazing. Just the fact of getting nominated for the Campbell and the Hugo alone was fantastic, not to mention that it was a good excuse to go to Japan. You know, it’s a cliché that it’s an honor just to be nominated, but I profoundly felt that way. I was asked by an interviewer very early on, before His Majesty’s Dragon came out, which I would rather have: a New York Times bestseller or a Hugo Award. Well, I didn’t get a Hugo, but to me, the Campbell was just as much of an honor.

DR: And you didn’t do too badly with the Times, either. Your latest book, Empire of Ivory, debuted at #15 on the Times list, I believe.

NN: Those two things both matter deeply to me as an indication that people are reading my work and connecting with it. It’s extremely important to me as a writer that I feel I’m reaching people. I don’t need to be making a fortune, but I do want to feel that I’m not writing into the ether. And of course what it also means is the freedom to keep going. That’s the real reward, that I get to keep doing this.

DR: Empire of Ivory is the fourth book in the Temeraire series. Are you planning a definite conclusion for the series, or is it open-ended? And how far ahead do you plot things out?

NN: I definitely know in detail what’s going to be happening a couple of books ahead of where I am. And then I have a general game plan where I know that the books end with the end of the Napoleonic wars, and the series has a definite arc to it.

DR: What year are we in now?

NN: Empire ends in August of 1807.

DR: You’re not very explicit about exact dates in the books. Readers sort of have to infer what year it is by their own knowledge of history.

NN: Yes, I have a timeline myself, and you can pin things down pretty well by the placement of historical events like Trafalgar. But I generally don’t want to nail things down too strongly. For one thing, travel in this time period was very different. A sea journey, the same journey, might take four months or eight months, depending on what time of year you did it, what kind of weather you ran into, what kind of ship you were on, whether you just had bad luck. And it was very much subject to the vagaries of the wind and the sea, and so I actually take the liberty of letting journeys sometimes take however much time is best for my story, my narrative, because I am aiming for an historical affect.

DR: But of course you’ve introduced another means of travel that’s a lot faster than anything historically available.

NN: Right, although this is an interesting point that isn’t explicit in the books. Dragons don’t necessarily travel much faster than ships over long distances. Ships can make, you know, twenty miles an hour under the right circumstances. I’ve pinned the speed of dragons to the speed of pterodactyls, about thirty miles an hour. And that’s what I feel a really good dragon could make. Some of the larger dragons, like the Regal Copper, have clearly been bred for massive size, and they have the endurance but not necessarily the ability to get up to that speed. So dragons fly at different speeds. Dragons are, of course, much faster than horses or anything else when it comes to flying straight over land, simply because they can go over obstacles. So it does change transportation a lot. But because dragons have not, at least in the West, been fully exploited for this quality before the time of my books, it hasn’t made the world shrink.


DR: Empire begins with a good example of the effect dragons can have on transportation, when Temeraire and other dragons are used to bring allied soldiers out of the besieged city of Danzig . . .

NN: Exactly. At the end of Book 3, Black Powder War, the dragons are used to carry the garrison off. And it’s also in Book 3 that Napoleon really starts to take advantage of the speed and mobility of dragons to move his army much faster than before—and his army was already, historically, much faster than any of his opponents. Once Lien, the dragon introduced in Throne of Jade, has come to France, bringing with her the knowledge of Chinese dragon technology—not in the Western sense exactly, not mechanical technology, but the efficient methods the Chinese have developed to incorporate dragons into their society, which are far in advance of anything developed so far in the West—once this happens, Napoleon is very quick to grasp the advantages. And of course he possesses the power to simply impose drastic changes in the use and treatment of dragons, which in a Parliamentary system like England’s simply isn’t there. That’s what’s happening in Book 3, and that’s why the events I’m writing about start to veer off a lot more from the historical record. The advances from China are hitting the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in Europe, and it’s creating a kind of perfect storm, which at the moment is making Napoleon even more dangerous and overpowering than he was already.

DR: The existence of dragons is the main point at which your fictional 19th century departs from history, but there are also more subtle differences, most of which seem directly or indirectly attributable to the presence of dragons. The survival of Nelson post-Trafalgar seems worth mentioning in this regard. The impression is that there is no detail, however small, that you’ve overlooked in fleshing out your alternate world.

NN: Well, thank you. It’s one advantage of working with history that I have this fully fleshed-out, realistic world pre-made for me at the price of cracking a book or going online. And then what I generally try to do, if I feel like I see a departure from history, my first step is always to know what really happened in a given stretch of time or in the course of a particular event. Once I know what really happened, I think about how dragons would have affected it. I feel very strongly that for me, the point of departure really is that there are dragons. That’s it. Every other difference has to come out of that fundamental one. That’s the fun, what-if puzzle of the whole thing. And that constraint, I think for me, is a useful one. I like having that kind of restriction.

DR: It must be tempting to go beyond that though, sometimes.

NN: Of course. Sometimes I run into something from history that I’d like to change, because it’s inconvenient to my story, but I can’t see how do it and stay true to everything else that’s changed. So I force myself to work around it. Usually I find that I come up with some kind of third twisting solution that is more interesting than what I originally wanted to do.

DR: Each novel in the series has its own plot and thrust, but there are also grander plots, or themes if you will, that move through and beyond each book, giving the series as a whole a kind of symphonic aspect. Two I’d like to focus on, and they are closely related, are feminism and slavery. Again, as with the departures from history referred to above, these themes are bound up with dragons. Can you talk a bit about these two themes, and this aspect of your work?

NN: These are issues that confront every historical writer of this period. Anybody who enjoys this period and likes it has to deal with the fact that this was not a great place to be anybody other than a rich white guy. Not even just a white guy. You had to be rich, because class is also a major issue, although that’s one that I’ve dealt with somewhat less so far. I think one solution that writers do is to modernize. So that if you read a lot of Regency romances, for example, very frequently the characters are basically all modern in their attitudes. And I felt very strongly that was not the way I wanted to go. To me, that breaks the suspension of disbelief and the sense of world building. So then, all right, I have a situation where the world is a pretty sexist, racist, classist place, and for myself as a reader, what matters to me is that I don’t get the feeling that the author is sort of glorifying the sexism, racism, or classism of the characters. That if there are things that are bad, the author deals with them and responds to them. And for myself, to enjoy writing in this period, that’s one of the reasons why I love the idea of doing alternate history and using dragons as sort of a focal tool. Because it let me—in a way that I felt made sense, that didn’t break the sense of the world—it let me sort of fix some of this stuff.

DR: Not by waving a magic wand, but in a rational way that has its own logical development.

NN: Yes. I’m still writing in a world that has all these problems, but I like to feel as though I’m giving the reader and myself a sense of being able to see how this world developed. Addressing these issues or themes is something that really matters a lot to me. I believe you have to tell a good story first, and you have to have characters that you love, but also who are true to their time and place.

DR: Like Captain Will Laurence.

NN: Laurence is a guy who grew up within exactly this historical world, with all its problems, and without even having to think about the issues of his privilege or anything like that, without ever having to think of women as potentially his equals. I mean, certainly Laurence thinks of women as human beings, but always as a different class of humans. It would never have occurred to him that a woman could be a soldier. But despite all that, he remains open minded. I think fairness is kind of the keystone of his character. He tries very hard to do what is fair and what is right. I think that the Laurence of His Majesty’s Dragon will not recognize the Laurence of the last book, and yet it will still be the same guy. He’s being forced to change in some ways, in ways that are uncomfortable for him, and yet I think he’s dealing with it all in an honorable way.

DR: I know intelligence varies among dragon species, but are the smartest dragons any smarter than humans? Temeraire, for example, seems able to more than hold his own with human mathematicians, and there’s a delightful scene in Empire of Ivory where he and some other dragons devise a non-Euclidean geometry as a kind of game . . .

NN: Dragons have a slightly different intelligence than humans. That’s why non-Euclidean geometry comes much more naturally to them. Dragons probably have more capability in terms of spatial relations. But I would I say that there’s a range of dragon intelligence just like there’s a range of human intelligence. The two species have very different kinds of intelligence, and they think in different ways.

DR: Given the intellectual abilities of dragons, why haven’t they developed their own civilizations? It seems that their highest intellectual and social accomplishments depend upon human influence and impression. Without humans, they remain wild, feral creatures of varying intelligence—or so it seems thus far.

NN: That’s not quite the case, although I can’t answer this question fully without giving away some spoilers for Empire of Ivory and books still to come. But in Empire, for example, there is an African culture that’s very much a human/dragon cooperation, and there will be some very interesting developments when we get to Peru and the Incan civilization. And Arkady and the ferals that were first encountered in Black Powder and continue to play an important part in Empire have their own society. The difficulty for dragons is that they don’t have hands, to put it bluntly. They don’t have opposable thumbs. So that’s a limitation right there on the kind of things they can build for themselves, the kind of tangible artifacts that can go along with a sophisticated culture but aren’t absolutely necessary for it. The other thing is, dragons are by and large more laid back than humans. The evolutionary pressures on them have been quite different. Their preoccupations are very different from those of human beings. They care about their territories, about treasure, about their eggs. Actually, their love of treasure is I think an outgrowth of the valuation they put on eggs. In fact, treasure is one of the main ways that dragons negotiate with each other to establish the relationship bonds that can lead to an egg. Some of this behavior I based on birds, such as the bower bird, which spends an inordinate amount of time building an elaborate, highly decorated nest in order to attract a mate. Because dragons don’t really need to be afraid, except of other dragons. I don’t think that they’re as inclined to make war on each other. They’re very aggressive, obviously, and not at all shy about fighting, but there are fewer of them than humans, and therefore more space for every dragon to establish a territory. So there are all these reasons why they don’t create a massive society on their own, without some relationship with people.

DR: What about religions? Human religions don’t seem to hold much interest for dragons, though some of them seem fascinated by philosophy. Do dragons have their own religion or religions, or are they fundamentally lacking in whatever it is that causes humans to experience a religious dimension to existence?

NN: I think there are dragons who are religious. We have a glimpse briefly in Black Powder War of dragons praying in a mosque. One determinant of how religious people are is whether or not they were raised in a religious environment, and I think the same is true to a degree of dragons. Fewer dragons than people are brought up in a religious environment, so there are fewer religious dragons.

DR: But they themselves haven’t developed their own god idea: I mean a dragon god or gods.

NN: This is another one of those areas where I’m afraid of giving away some spoilers, but I can say that religion is an issue that will be addressed more in upcoming books. But I think it varies from dragon to dragon. Temeraire is very intellectual about all this, and doesn’t quite get it. I think Temeraire would be perfectly willing to believe God existed, but he’d spend all his time asking uncomfortable questions about, if God does exist, why does He allow certain things to happen.

DR: You’ve mentioned that Temeraire and Laurence will visit Peru. What about the rest of South and North America and the indigenous civilizations there, the Maya, the Aztecs, the North American tribes?

NN: Again, trying to steer clear of spoilers, one reason the European contact with the Americas had such catastrophic effects on the native population was the introduction of new diseases. That will still be a factor in my books, though the presence of dragons will change things in, I hope, interesting ways. But just like we talked about earlier with slavery and so on, my interest isn’t in taking ugly incidents in the past and making them go away. Dragons are the focal point of the changes I’ve introduced into history, but they’re not a panacea for all the ills of the past. It doesn’t erase the fact that all these people were conquered and killed. For instance, there has been some colonization in my books. The Portuguese do have Brazil.

DR: Ignoring those kinds of facts can make alternate history almost immoral, can’t it?

NN: I believe pretty strongly that anything you do as a writer of alternate history, as long as you do it with respect and thoughtfulness, it’s not wrong. For myself, it’s not something I want to ignore. It is the story I’m telling. I support everybody’s right to tell the story they want to tell. If somebody wants to write a Regency romance where the characters are all modernized and speak in contemporary idioms, that’s fine, as long as you’re not trying to put it over as an authentic representation of history. But in this case, I thought that it might be immoral for me to ignore these elements, of slavery and so on, because, first, that’s very much the story I’m trying to tell, and second, it violates my cardinal rule, which is that all the changes have to be tied to dragons. The dragons of the new world couldn’t protect the people of the new world against the introduction of diseases to which they had no resistance. On the other hand, I do have the freedom to ask what would happen if the dragons of the new world had a similar effect upon the dragons of the old world . . .

DR: The Temeraire books are billed as fantasies, primarily because of the dragons, and the alternate history aspect, but they seem a far cry from traditional fantasies. There’s no magic, after all, and the abilities of the dragons are given a scientific veneer, and obviously you have a great respect for history . . .

NN: My general feeling is that when you’re writing fantasy, it’s best not to ask readers to swallow twelve things at once. By narrowing focus, you make it easier for the reader to suspend disbelief and believe that what they are reading is real, assuming that’s the kind of feeling you want in your readers, and sometimes it’s not. For instance, I would point toward Patricia McKillip’s fantasies, which are much more about evoking an atmosphere and a mood and a sort of sense of wonder.

DR: There’s a dreamlike logic driving her books. They’re like fairy tales from an alternate world.

NN: Exactly. She’s not trying for realist effects. In the Temeraire books, I am trying for those effects. If you’re writing realist fantasy, I think it’s best to put yourself on a diet as a writer, you know, where I’ll ask my reader to swallow this one thing, and as long as they accept it, then everything else is going to make sense to them in what they know of history, what they know of the real world, what they know about how people relate to each other. That’s what I think is important for realist fantasy, where you’re trying to convince your reader that it would have happened this way, if only. As for the dragons, I certainly haven’t tried to apply any kind of rigorous science to them. I suspect in many ways they are implausible. But there is enough science, or pseudo-science, that I feel the reader can buy it on those terms.

DR: What about the movie? Can you bring us up to date on what’s been going on since Peter Jackson optioned the film rights for His Majesty’s Dragon?

NN: I really don’t know what’s going on with that. These things can go on for years and years. You sort of knock on wood and hope that it happens at some point, but it’s really out of my hands. The wonderful thing is, Peter Jackson is definitely the right person to make the movie, when and if one gets made.

DR: Has all your research into and imaginative immersion in the Napoleonic period affected your perspective on our own time, and the War on Terror in particular?

NN: One thing I’ve come to appreciate more and more in writing these books is that when it comes to war, once certain things are set in motion, we really don’t have any idea where they are going to end up. Even Napoleon, a military genius, won a lot of his battles by luck. At the battle of Jena-Auerstedt, for example, in Prussia, he badly misjudged where the main body of the Prussian army was, and about a quarter of his army ended up facing three-quarters of the enemy’s army, while he faced and beat the remaining quarter. Despite all his planning, the battle came down to the luck of the draw. You can’t delude yourself into thinking that you have control, and you have to be careful about going into these things with an illusion of how much you can accomplish with military force. Even if you have more money and more weapons and more men, there’s no such thing as a sure thing. At the same time, my research has given me a lot more sympathy for the people on the ground and the people who are trying to carry out the larger strategy.

DR: You do your writing in libraries. Why?

NN: It’s not specifically libraries. I’m constantly on the hunt for places where I can park myself with a laptop in a pleasant environment that’s not too loud and has no Internet.

DR: Is that key? No Internet?

NN: Yeah, I can’t be trusted with Internet. In fact, one of the dangers for a lot of writers is the danger of doing too much research to begin with, and you end up researching and researching and researching, and you don’t write your damn story. With an Internet connection, it’s very easy to end up spending an entire day researching the choice of one word.

DR: Of course, working in a library doesn’t exactly remove that difficulty.

NN: Well, I like to do my research online. So I save that for home.

DR: But don’t you find that working in libraries has its own distractions?

NN: I also like to work in museums, like the Metropolitan Museum. People are pretty quiet in a library, so in some respects it’s better than a café, although cafés have their advantages. But I have noise-canceling headphones that I originally got for use on airplanes, and they work great. So in a practical way, I’m not really distracted by my surroundings. I have my classical music playing . . .

DR: You listen to music while you write?

NN: Yeah.


DR: Do you play music from the time period in which your books are set?

NN: Yes, I make a new playlist for each book. For Empire of Ivory, I got a whole lot of African music.

DR: Do you play the same songs over and over?

NN: My playlist usually runs to about 100 songs or so, so I don’t really notice any repetition. And once I start writing, the music very quickly fades into the background. It’s really there just to drown out anything around me.

DR: It’s all instrumental stuff.


NN: Instrumental and foreign language stuff—languages that I don’t speak, so I don’t get distracted by the lyrics.

DR: When is the next volume of Temeraire going to be published?

NN: July 2008.

DR: Do you have a title yet?

NN: Victory of Eagles.

DR: Do you have any plans to explore the past of Temeraire’s world in greater detail, say in short stories or other novels, for example?

NN: I do, actually. I actually have a short story in progress where Marc Antony is the first man to tame a dragon in the West. He doesn’t set out to do it; it’s more of a drunken accident. I’m really looking forward to finishing it. And I definitely want to explore more of the world, the universe. But the problem is time. There are so many other things that I also want to explore. After Victory of Eagles is done, in about another month, I’m going to be taking some time before starting Book 6, because the Temeraire books are moving to a once-a-year schedule, so I’ll have a full year between, which should be enough time for me write one other novel, something completely different, and I want to get into that habit, sort of switching back and forth between projects.

DR: It sounds like you’ve already got something in mind.

NN: I have two concepts, two ideas where I’ve already written pieces.

DR: Both ongoing series like Temeraire, or stand-alones?

NN: One is a five-book cycle, and the other I’m not sure.

DR: Both alternate histories?

NN: It’s hard to say. One is a time-travel story, and as soon as you’ve got time travel, then history becomes a sort of fluid concept. And the other one is set five minutes in the future: a science-fictional story. They’re alternate histories in that they’re set in our world. And I do like to use our world and our history as a foundation, but they aren’t alternate history necessarily in the same sense of the Temeraire universe, where I’m really following an historical narrative, the Napoleonic wars.


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