WarningMight contain spoilers.

Some of the darkest moments of the series are to be found here. The breeding grounds are awful and all one wants is for one of the dragons to shake some sense into Lloyd (who undergoes an interesting change of heart over time as he starts taking pride in being one of the dragons’ men).

Temeraire’s blank despair when he’s told Laurence is dead is terrible, as is the fact that, had it been true, he’d never have learnt it from the admiralty. It’s nice of Moncey and Perscitia to come to try to lift his spirits. Trust him to lead the dragons of the breeding grounds in a revolution and even get himself made commodore—they all work well indeed together. I enjoyed the sequence of Requiescat coming to the human company’s rescue with some annoyance at these dragons having disregarded the orders not to go near the Frenchmen, realizing there are people on them, taking them to meet ‘the commander’, and completely intimidating the Winchester on guard duty who asks him for the password with it’s me, isn’t it?. I still get tears in my eyes at this passage:

Requiescat continued to talk, and Perscitia was going on about pepper, but Temeraire did not understand either of them; their words did not seem to want to make sense. Laurence was coming towards him; but Laurence was dead. Then he was saying, ‘Temeraire, thank Heavens; I have been trying to find you these last four days.’

Perscitia is a great character and her combative relationship with Temeraire is loads of fun. Requiescat is obnoxious at first, and even I bristled at the idea that Temeraire should abandon his cave after making it so nice. What a life Gentius had, and what a pitiful state he is reduced to.

Of course Laurence is busy playing the hero even as a prisoner. It’s sad to think that Ferris was dismissed because of his actions, as right as they were. Thank goodness for Tharkay and his (repeated) dryness. Maximus telling Laurence to remind Temeraire that he and Lily are ready to fight alongside Temeraire to save Laurence is hilarious for its attempted subtlety as well as heartwarming.

It’s hard to watch Laurence’s decline, feeling trapped as he does. I do understand how desperate and unhappy he is at the consequences of his actions, and how much pressure he feels from the entire country, but it’s not nice to hear him say he wishes he hadn’t done it. The episode with Edith and Woolvey when Tharkay and Laurence go to rescue Granby is sad—Edith had already lost Laurence to the Corps, and now she loses Woolvey to Laurence’s mission too.

Poor Catherine and her egg. The dragons have so much undisguised disdain for it. Wellesley has a lot more sense than the other generals do, as is plainly intended to be conveyed. I really enjoyed the meeting where Temeraire first makes the generals forget he is a dragon, then reminds them. Arkady and Demane are a hilariously bad influence on each other:

‘He does not know what the other soldiers are saying with the flags,’ Demane said, looking up, ‘so I tell him, and then we decide whether to listen. The flags are wrong sometimes,’ he added.

The attacks on the French supply lines are an unpleasant business. I don’t understand the rules of war. I don’t understand why this is okay to attack and that is not while covert operations (like breaking out prisoners of war) are expected on both sides. All I know is that Laurence and the others are doing something that seems to be dishonourable and reprehensible while the people of England come to worship them for it, and it makes everyone deeply unhappy the whole time.

That goes double for the section where they surprise two French dragons and Maximus kills one by landing on it while they capture the other. Isn’t the whole point of war to defeat the other side? Why do they suddenly develop consciences? What were they doing during all the battles so far, where they tried their best to gain the advantage beforehand and make it swift and decisive just like this was? Thank goodness for Tharkay coming to the rescue for the second time in one book. (Very poor timing on Laurence’s realization, though. Wellesley is not wrong to misinterpret his actions.)

It’s smart of Napoleon to send the Papillon Noir to seduce the independent dragons. The British are just lucky Temeraire is on the British side, because the British dragons are treated horribly in comparison. Even if Bonaparte only did it for Lien, not because he cares about the dragons, the fact remains that he’s made the lives of French dragons materially better in significant ways. Lien herself is a fearsome opponent.

Next in series: (#6 in Thoughts & Spoilers: Books: Temeraire (2006))