Interview: Naomi Novik on her Temeraire series

From Neverwinter Nights to the Napoleonic War — with dragons
By CLEA SIMON  |  July 16, 2010

With her sixth Temeraire fantasy, Tongues of Serpents (Del Ray), out this week, New York Times bestseller Naomi Novik takes on dragons, Peter Jackson, and the beginning of the end of a beloved series.

For people who don’t know the series, why don’t you tell us the whole idea of how you came up with the idea of Napoleonic War with dragons.
I became a fan of Patrick O’Brian shortly before I started writing the Temeraire series. I was introduced to his work by the movie that had just come out, Master and Commander. And I had always been a fan of the Napoleonic Wars era. I had by that point read — now I’ve read more — about 10 biographies of Napoleon just for fun. And I love Jane Austen and the Regency period afterward. Georgette Heyer. And what Patrick O’Brian and Master and Commander and the whole genre of naval adventure in the Age of Sail brought to the table was this idea of mixing swashbuckling adventure with comedy of manners, and that was the missing element that made me really want to write it. And dragons, well, I’ve been a science fiction and fantasy fan my whole life, the Perth books were hugely formative for me at a young age. Somehow that seems quite natural to me. It makes perfect sense!

I love that you have the ultimate innocents wandering into this highly ritualized society.
Once I had the idea, a lot of other ideas fell into place quite naturally. Treating them like sailing ships, so they had crews rather than a single rider. And dragons work quite well on a technological level, our baseline concepts of dragons. I could imagine writing a World War I book set in the Temeraire universe, but the dragons would have to be armored and you’d have to already understand how dragons work.

In an interview on the Del Ray site and in your acknowledgment, you hint that you’ll be ending the series after three more books.
For me the series ends with the end of the Napoleonic wars, which has already been advanced somewhat from the historical end, but I do feel there will be appoint when the wars come to a close. For me, I want to bring a sense of closure to the adventure arc even though the lives of the characters carry on. It’s not going to be a rock fall, everyone dies. I will spoil my readers that much. But I have definite ideas for the next three books.

What the first three books were about for me, and I do feel they fall into sort of loose arcs, the first three books were kind of about exploring the society as it existed. Lawrence especially learning about this new society to which he’s thrust into. Even though he’s lived in this period all his life, he’s he hasn’t really been aware of dragons and dragon society. They’re kind of outside polite society. The world is opening up for him. Then in the second three books was Lawrence and Temeraire having to find a way that they can approach this world of theirs. Lawrence has had to radically shift his point of view on the world and his attitudes.

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