Sequestered spaces, and what is within and without in regards to Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series
historical fantasy fiction, alternate history fiction, gender
Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series re-imagines the Napoleonic Wars in a world where dragons have always existed alongside human society. Temeraire focuses on its protagonist Captain William Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire. Laurence’s life is upended when he acquires Temeraire’s egg as a spoil of war and becomes the dragon’s captain. He is forced to leave the normal society he knew to enter the one crafted around dragons and working life within the Aerial Corps. Temeraire belongs to both the historical fantasy and alternate history subgenres. Understanding the interactions of these two subgenres is key to understanding the truly re-imaginative aspects of Novik’s work. Through these blended subgenres, Novik creates a world that allows for large amounts of agency to be given to her female characters without disrupting the historical setting that earns the series its place in the historical fantasy subgenre. The addition of dragons into our history leads to spaces sequestered specifically for dragons within British society; these spaces allow room for what can be considered fantastical characterizations of women when contrasted against morals held during the Napoleonic Wars of 1803 to 1815. The women of the Aerial Corps exemplify personal expression and agency that aligns with modern reader values; they are inherently at odds with their contemporary societal expectations. Novik begs the question of how the lives of British female officers can be justified to exist within the setting she has created for Temeraire, her answer being heterotopias - spaces that exclude and excuse these women from normal society.
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