Napoleonic naval adventure plus dragons. That does pretty well sum it up.

Of course, there’s more to it than that. I’ve gotten lots of recommendations for this book, but have put off trying out for a long time as while the high concept is one that could be a lot of fun, it’s also one that could go disastrously wrong, especially if you know something of the history of the era.

Thankfully, it does work, and there is some nice worldbuilding around making it all work. Once into the main part of the book, the sharp-eyed will soon see that it is 1805 (I recall no year being given in the novel), and the campaign that ends in the Battle of Trafalgar is in motion.

But this is about dragons, and not ships, so that’s not the focus nor climax of the novel, even though it provides a very good framework for some of the action. Instead, we have an introduction to the world of dragons (which is conveniently gauche enough that our ship captain main character needs as much introduction to the Aerial Corps as we do), with training, integrating with a unit and social norms, etc. This is a lot of the backbone of the center of the book, and is well done with a fairly appropriate feel for the society of the era without going overboard in it (not that I’m an expert, but it sure felt true to what I know).

The dragons are intelligent, and therefore characters in their own right, as well varied in form and function, having been bred for different roles about as much as dogs have been. You can’t stare at them too long, as there’s no way for a smaller dragon to really work without a fair amount of magic (and so far there seems to be none past the dragons and some having breath weapons of fire and acid and the like), and most of the dragons here are huge. A true ‘combat dragon’ carries a load of marines (for boarding actions) and gunners to fire at the enemy, along with gear and tackle for all them, and the space to put it all… goodness. There’s a number of nods the problems inherent in all this, but just enjoy it and don’t think too hard about it. But the tone is small ship actions, not fighters (though there’s some of that too, since the dragons attack each other directly as well).

That was a lot of what gave me pause going into this, but it works out. The characters are well worth reading about, the action is well done, and overall the plot works out very well. Certainly recommended.