Commander Siobhan Dunmoore has recently had a battleship shot out from under her. Her daring successes in previous engagements have not endeared her to the establishment, which sees her as hotheaded and impulsive. Her mentor assigns her to Stingray, an obsolete frigate rumoured to be jinxed. Her predecessor was dismissed under mysterious circumstances, and the crew is none too welcoming. Dunmoore must both resolve the situation with a hostile and cowed crew, and also engage the enemy while on patrol.
While the enemies are humanoid aliens and the action is set in space, the setting shows clear signs of inspiration from the naval conflicts of Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars, and perhaps also from fictional heroes like Horatio Hornblower and Honor Harrington (the latter books themselves inspired by the former). While there is clearly a wider universe, the action is tightly focused on Commander Dunmoore, giving the feel of a submarine story. The allusion to the submariner tradition of a indicating a clean sweep with a broom makes this connection clear. The players are isolated while on patrol, and must resolve the internal conflicts on the ship while fighting their external enemies. These external enemies are not only the alien Shrehari, but the powers within the navy and society that would have them fail, and the figurative ghost of their former sociopathic captain.
While the setting and story are perhaps somewhat unoriginal compared to what has come before, Mr. Thomson is skilled at dialogue and interpersonal relationships, making this an engaging novel with excellent pacing.
After their adventures in China in Throne of Jade, Temeraire, Laurence and the rest of the crew receive orders to travel to Istambul in the Ottoman Empire. Here, they must retrieve three Turkish dragon eggs for further transport to England. Pressed for time, Laurence opts for the overland route through Asia, a long and arduous journey. Needless to say, once in Istambul circumstances have changed. And that is just the beginning of the troubles for our heroes.
While still not quite reaching the level of the first book, Black Powder War is still eminently readable and fun. At this point it seems the macropolitical developments in Europe starts to diverge more markedly from our history, with Temeraire and Laurence acting as agents for a change in social status of dragons in the West.
The second book picks up immediately after the events of His Majesty’s Dragon. As it turns out, Temeraire’s egg, which Laurence and his crew captured on a French warship, was meant as a gift from China to Napoleon. Temeraire is a very rare Chinese breed, and now the Chinese want him back. Thus starts a long and arduous journey to Peking on a diplomatic mission to resolve the situation.
While not quite as good as the first book, the second installment keeps up the spirit of high adventure. Temeraire is fleshed out some more as a character, with some interesting influence from a Chinese society where Dragons are treated very differently compared to their situation in Europe.
The year is 1804. Captain Will Laurence of the Royal Navy and his crew capture a French warship. On board they find a dragon egg; a prize worth a princely sum to the British war effort. The egg hatches and the dragon, whom Laurence names Temeraire, imprints on him as his handler. Laurence must leave the Royal Navy to join the Flying Corps, and entirely foreign environment for him.
His Majesty’s Dragon is a delightful novel, full of whooping-out-loud-inducing adventure set in a period of gentlemen, honour and heroic deeds. There’s a Horatio Hornblower vibe over the story, which dares to be high adventure without dwelling too much over the fact that dragons do exist and are simply part of the world. A somewhat storied and mystical part, to be sure, but there is no further explanation required or necessary. Ms. Novik doesn’t bend over backwards to make the existence of these beasts plausible, but simply integrates them into history as we know it, making for some striking images. For example, dragon formations crewed with gunners and boarders striking at convoys in the English channel. The entire organization of dragons in battle as couriers, support aircraft or heavy strike beasts depending on size and ability rapidly starts to seem entirely plausible given the historical background. And so, even though it is full of dragons, the novel doesn’t feel very much like fantasy at all, keeping its thematic roots firmly in the historical novel and alternate history camps.
Once again we join Daniel Leary and Adele Mundy with the crew of the Princess Cecile. A Cinnabar national is inciting rebellion on an Alliance world. With the two nations now at peace, the political situations is sticky. If the rebellion succeeds, it could mean resumption of hostilities, and that would be ruinous for both sides.
Another fun adventure with our friends, this time rather interestingly splitting our two protagonists up for a good long section. While I do enjoy the reading, I get the feeling that Mr. Drake is treading. Leary and Mundy seem so superior to any challenge posed them that there are no real challenges. They are almost ridiculously awesome. Unless Drake puts their back to the wall against real odds again, this series will peter out into dullness.
Peace has broken out between the Republic of Cinnabar and The Alliance of Free Stars. Captain Leary and the Princess Cecile are tasked with taking a new commissioner to the backwater planet of Zenobia. It is supposed to be a quiet and uncomplicated mission, but of course danger and intrigue are lurking. A plot by a local planetary ruler to invade Zenobia soon throws a wrench in the works.
I enjoyed this one greatly. Leary and Mundy are in fine form, The space action is very good, especially the final battle which takes up a good chunk of the book. There is also an abundance of colorful characters, even more than usual for the RCN series.
This novel certainly has a very cool and well imagined setting. A hollow sphere the size of a small planet, filled with air. In the center is Candesce, a fusion powered artificial sun. Dotted around the place are lesser artificial suns. Around the suns low G human civilizations cluster for warmth, building giant wooden wheels to create their own gravity strongly tainted by coriolis force. Weather systems are logical extensions of the environment, with convective currents driving everything from icebergs to clouds to whole civilizations around the place.
Unfortunately it all quickly becomes rather tedious. The novel attempts to recreate the feel of an adventure novel set in the age of sail. A young man who, years ago, saw his nation conquered and his parents murdered infiltrates the highest levels of the enemy nation command structure. Said enemy nation sends a fleet (yes, cool flying ships) on a pre-emptive strike. And that’s where I called it quits. Despite the cool gadgets, I found the characters less than engaging. I didn’t give a rat’s ass what happened to any of them. After the fabulous premise was well established, it was disappointing to find the story itself so trivial, and the characters so mundane. This story needed a co-author with a better hand at dialogue and characterization, not to mention combat.
The seventh book in the RCN series sees Leary take his new command, the heavy cruiser Milton, on what is supposed to be a milk run: escorting a senator to the Montserrat Stars to re-establish relations with the local authorities. Once they get there, it is clear that the Alliance has more or less taken over, having handed the Republic of Cinnabar Navy a humiliating defeat. IT should come as no surprise to regular readers that Leary and the rest must now fix the problem.
Lots of action and a strong story make for an entertaining book. The fact that Leary has now “graduated” to a larger ship, and spends some time in command of a makeshift squadron, is a definite plus. While tooling around in the Princess Cecile was all well and good, Drake couldn’t have Leary and Mundy do that forever. Speaking of Adele Mundy, this book is definitely very much about her, with significant developments for her character.
Set during the peak of the Age of Sail in the Napoleonic era, the books detail the exploits of Horatio Hornblower from Midshipman to Admiral. Full of action and adventure, they manage to include shiphandling minutiae without bogging down the story. Page turners for young and old alike. I would recommend starting with Beat to Quarters (AKA The Happy Return) since the earlier books by internal chronology (yet written later) tend to be of a slightly lesser quality.
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower – This short story collection covers the early career of our young hero, from his first onboard ship experience to his two and a half years of captivity in Spain. By the end, Hornblower is promoted to Lieutenant. Even though it is a short story collection, it flows quite nicely and is more of an episodic novel.
Lieutenant Hornblower – The still very young Hornblower has to deal with a tyrannous and insane Captain. He then distinguishes himself by helping in the destruction of a Spanish fortress and taking prizes.
Hornblower and the ‘Hotspur’ – Although the action is fast and furious, this one is a mite tedious. Hornblower spends a couple of years on blockade duty off the coast of France. This sort of duty was demanding and harsh, but also monotonous and performed in cold, dreary weather for much of the year.
Hornblower during the Crisis – The chronologically fourth novel is unfinished due to Forester’s death. Nothing much happens since only the first 100 pages or so are written. Hornblower is about to become a spy. Also included are a two short stories, the latter showing our hero in old age.
Hornblower and the ‘Atropos’ – This one is very episodic in a singularly annoying way. Apart from the one ship commanded throughout, there is no single thread to pull the reader along. Disappointing.
Beat to Quarters (known as The Happy Return in the UK edition) – The first novel to be written, this one is a masterpiece of plotting and action. Hornblower, in command of the frigate Lydia, heads to the Pacific coast of Central America in order to make life difficult for the Spanish colonies there. He also has his first encounter with Lady Barbara. The sailing and combat action is excellent, but one should not forget the evolution of the relationship with Lady Barbara. In the beginning, Hornblower strongly dislikes her, but in the end he loves her. And we see the process every step of the way.
Ship of the Line – Hornblower takes command of the two-decker Sutherland. He carries out five daring raids against the French, but ends up a prisoner after defeat against overwhelming odds. This one ends in a cliffhanger of sorts as our hero is imprisoned in French oppupied Catalonia. Great action, perhaps even better than in Beat to Quarters.
Flying Colours – This picks up immediately where Ship of the Line left off. Hornblower is on his way to Paris to be tried for purported war crimes. Napoleon is trying to score some propaganda points. However he manages to escape and makes his way back to England, where he finds a hero’s welcome. This one is quite introspective in some sections, with Hornblower’s cynicism and doubts coming to the fore. He hates himself in certain ways, not daring to realize how much he means to people. He is afraid of failure despite great success. And finally he cynically realizes how the British use him for propaganda as much as the French meant to. At the end of the book, we find Hornblower widowed with a young son. But Lady Barbara is also widowed. Opportunity awaits, perhaps.
Commodore Hornblower – Our hero is now married to Barbara, and in the landed gentry. He is sent on a mission to the Baltic to ensure that the Swedes and the Russians don’t join the war on the side of Napoleon. Action as usual but not a whole lot of character development.
Lord Hornblower – The action moves to the English Channel as the Napoleonic era draws to a close and the French mainland can now be invaded (ahem… liberated). The last part is pretty boring as Hornblower, together with his friends from Flying Colours, fights a guerrilla action against the new Napoleonic regime during the “hundred days” following the Emperor’s escape from Elba.
Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies – A short story collection in all but name. While mildly entertaining, Forester is basically treading water here. A disappointing ending after such great novels as Beat to Quarters and Ship of the Line.
After the mild disappointment of volumes four and five, Drake is back in good form. Leary is sent on a mission to destabilize what one might charitably call a banana republic in order to relieve pressure from a Cinnabar stronghold. The Bagarian Republic is modeled after South American revolutionary governments, complete with generalissima and corrupt politicians with plenty of unearned decorations. Needless to say, Leary and Mundy manage to perform several daring raids in order to complete the mission.
Clarity returns to the series, then. Leary, Mundy and their companions on the Princess Cecile are as outrageous and entertaining as ever. The action scenes are frequent and of the usual high Drake class. Character development of some of the supporting players is emphasized, definitely a good thing. This book has made me eager once again for the next installment.
Lt. Leary, sans ship, is sent to Ganpat’s Reach as an advisor. His mission is to untangle a messy inter-system invasion that threatens the interests of a Cinnabar ally. Conveniently, he can hire his own former ship, the Princess Cecile, and most of the Sissies, to convey him. On arrival, he finds a complex web of intrigue and machinations.
I was rather disappointed by this installment. While it was entertaining enough to keep me going, the plot felt haphazard and overcomplex. The three system polities involved weren’t sufficiently fleshed out, and I was often confused about who did what and to whom. Individual scenes were top notch as usual, but the arc of the plot was muddled.
Leary has finally been promoted, but due to political machinations he is not given a new ship command. Instead, he is assigned as the executive officer of a paranoid Captain whose last move was to violently quash a mutiny by massacring the perpetrators, one of whom was a senator’s son. Leary cannot play humble, and ends up squarely in the sights of his superior.
The series certainly isn’t becoming dull, but I find that Drake missed an opportunity here. The main plot complication in the early part of the book is the contrast and conflict between Leary and Captain Slidell. However, Leary quickly manages to get himself assigned to detached duty, robbing the readers of a whole raft of interesting situations. If you can look past that, this is still a strong book in the series, though not quite as good as those preceding it.
At the beginning of the third RCN book, Lt. Leary is beached on half pay after peace has broken out between the Republic of Cinnabar and the Alliance of Free Stars. Through an unexpected turn of events, he is able to once again take command of the Princess Cecile, which has been sold out of navy service but is chartered as a yacht by a wealthy foreign couple who want to venture far into the lawless “north”. Their aim is adventure, gambling, big game hunting, but also a search for an elusive relic, the Earth Diamond.
As is now usual with these books, the main plot is not very linear, with many subplots seemingly there to provide amusement and adventure rather than support the main plot. And as is also usual, I didn’t mind at all. Not totally unexpectedly, Lt. Leary finds a way to return to navy service both himself, his crew, and the Princess Cecile. The action is fast, furious and humorous and maintains the high standards of the previous books.
After the heroic deeds on Kostroma in With the Lightnings, Leary is unexpectedly permitted to retain command of the captured corvette Princess Cecile. Mundy becomes an intelligence officer for Cinnabar’s elusive spy chief, Mistress Sand. Leary and his crew must catch up with a squadron en route to prevent a rebellion on a vassal planet. Through high level machinations, one of their passengers is the putative heir of the planet’s ruling family.
The main plot is not terribly strong, but it doesn’t matter much. This series is about high-flying adventures, exciting locales and interesting characters, not exact plotting. There is a certain disjointed feeling to the story. For example the incident with the pirates could have been a self contained short story and feels like an excuse to provide some amusing action more than a necessary story element. But as mentioned, all that doesn’t really matter. Revisiting Daniel Leary and Adele Mundy is a treat unto itself.
I was put off from reading this for a full eight years mainly due to the horrible cover, but also some misgivings about David Drake. While I loved his Hammer’s Slammers, his writing has often been a bit wooden. The blurb just didn’t do it for me either. Well, I’m so happy to be proven wrong. “With the Lightnings” is quality military SciFi. The RCN series has been likened to the Hornblower books, However Drake himself says they are actually based on the Aubrey/Maturin books. Since those are in themselves inspired by the Hornblower series, I suppose both comparisons are apt.
Lt. Daniel Leary is an officer of the Republic of Cinnabar Navy. Cinnabar is a “great power” opposed by “the Alliance”. As in all good adventure fiction of this stripe, the Alliance is “evil” and Cinnabar is “good”. Leary is a supernumerary on a diplomatic mission to the planet Kostroma. Meanwhile, Adele Mundy, a Cinnabar information specialist in exile, has been hired to set up the ruler’s library on Kostroma. While they are there, the Alliance invades Kostroma. Leary and Mundy join forces and, with the help of a group of Cinnabar ratings, set about attempting to escape.
Swashbuckling action only begins to describe this book. Drake has adapted his technology and political/social structures to mimic the age of sail to a degree that would be ridiculous if it wasn’t such a good background for a story. Leary and Mundy are the perfect characters for this kind of thing. Daring, courageous and humorously cocky, yet by no means arrogantly sure of themselves. The locales are colorful, the characters engaging, the action furious and exciting.