This is entertaining fluff, if you can read past a certain amount of tiresome Orientalism. The premise is secondary-world Temeraire — the pan-European nation of Volstov, host to all the point-of-view characters and the dragons, has been at war with the pan-Asian nation of Ke-Han for a century and change, and no one really knows or cares why, they just go to war when they’re told. The characters are four men [SPOILERS], two of whom become gay lovers and two of whom discover that they’re long-lost brothers. The romance is probably what saves the book, if anything does, since the actual plot is pretty thin, although the comedy-of-manners stuff on the Volstovic side works reasonably well. Basically — I’m sorry, I know this is ridiculously spoilery, but it really does reduce to this — Ke-Han has cursed the Volstovic wizards and dragons, but luckily that can be cured by killing all the Ke-Han wizards. They conveniently all live in the same tower, so they can be killed all at once, which means the climax is right out of STAR WARS. The dragons are even made of metal.
There are nice touches here. I liked giving the districts women’s names, I liked a fair bit of the dialogue, the writing is snappy if occasionally cringey, the title is cool. But I don’t see much in the way of vision — secondary-world Napoleonic Wars is fine, but I can’t figure out the angle except that the trappings and iconography are fun. There’s no questioning, no subversion, no sense for theme. And at the level of basic entertainment, it fails on a couple points of consistency (e.g. the city is supposedly tolerant of homosexuality, but the wizard is exiled for a gay affair) and suffers really badly from the fact that the opposition is literally a faceless Asian horde. (To be fair, it looks like the sequel has some POV characters from Ke-Han.)
Anyway. Disappointing. And the guy who wrote THE LAST UNICORN really liked it? Oh well.
I think I’m going to need to start reviewing some books written by dudes. I’m reasonably certain I’m just fairly snotty overall, not particularly toward women writers, but I’m starting to feel bad about poking holes in all these books that I’m supposedly reading to broaden my horizons. Unfortunately, even this relatively light project is taking up an uncomfortable fraction of my free time as it is…