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REVIEW: Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik

REVIEW SUMMARY: The 5th book in a series, this novel keeps up the quality work seen in previous efforts with a darker tale.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: England is threatened by invasion from France while our heroes are outcasts for refusing to engage in genocide and being branded traitors.


PROS: Great battle sequences, characters take the forefront again

CONS: Doesn’t really break new ground.

BOTTOM LINE: I enjoyed this book despite a viewpoint becoming somewhat jaded.

It is the curse of a series that the sense of wonder begins to wane a bit as you get deeper into it. Such is the case here in that while I enjoyed the action sequences and character interactions quite a bit, my overall enthusiasm for the world that’s been crafted is somewhat reduced.

If you haven’t read this series, there is quite a bit to like about Novik’s alternative history with dragons. Imperialism has been blunted and we find England overall in a weak position save for Nelson’s navy. None of the European powers have been able to establish a foothold in America, Africa, or Asia because the people there live in harmony with dragons while the nations of Europe have largely treated dragons as cattle. And when Napoleon’s France decides to change that approach they find success undreamed of. All told, it is a dark time for England.

And it’s a dark time for our heroes as well. Captain Laurence finds himself imprisoned at sea as a result of this traitorous action at the end of the previous book. Temeraire is put out to stud, forced into a breeding ground for captain-less dragons with only the threats against Laurence’s life to keep him in check. But when Napoleon invades thanks to the ingenious use of dragons, all hell breaks loose on the island and the action starts.

At this point Novik really shines and takes the series in a great direction. Temeraire given a battlefield commission which advances his quest for dragon’s rights but requires him to follow orders – including ones he doesn’t care for. The horrors of war are presented in stark realistic terms when Temeraire has to slaughter largely defenseless French troops in order to disrupt the main army’s food supply. And the large final battle is depicted very well, with all the skill Novik showed describing naval combat way back in the first book.

What I enjoyed most about the book is that the outcome was in no way clear. After all, there isn’t a clear team of ‘good guys’ here. Laurence is an outcast for having done the right thing. England is a nation that treats dragons poorly. France is trying to build an Empire but newly respects dragons. I wouldn’t have been surprised by any direction the book took. All I’ll say is that I’m honestly looking forward to the next one because of the unexpected direction it did take.

1 Comment on REVIEW: Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik

  1. You’re right, Scott, this installment does lack some of the sense of wonder that Novik’s other books had. That being said, I think the reason for this is because the wonder of most of the series is in how Novik presents human-dragon interaction in other countries – each has a different culture for the characters and readers to explore that’s familier, and yet strange because of the element of dragons. I agree though, overall, it’s an entertaining book – a good day-at-the-beach read.

    But to indulge in a bit of fanboy nitpicking… you mentioned “None of the European powers have been able to establish a foothold in America, Africa, or Asia” This isn’t entirely true. In Empire of Ivory, prior to the Tswana uprising, the English do have a pretty strong hold on part of South Africa through their base at Capetown. I seem to recall mention of other slave-trading centres along the coast, which wouldn’t exclude other European powers. Similar English holdings are mentioned in India in Throne of Jade, along with the colony in Hong Kong. And, as for “America”, the while United States has not been specifically mentioned in the novels (I can’t speak to whether Novik has mentioned the fate of the 13 colonies in any interviews, because I haven’t read any), it should be noted that the Americas comprise a lot of geography beyond the US, and pretty much every novel in the series has mentioned the strategically significant base of Halifax and its surrounding colony in Nova Scotia. The extent of England’s power in North America beyond that is unclear, however one of the books does mention Temeraire seeing a captive First Nations dragon and its rider being shipped aboard a carrier to the UK, indicating the British have imposed themselves upon some native territory. Let’s also not forget the end of Victory of Eagles, which I won’t spoil, but which does explicitly discuss another significant colony. Indeed, aside from trouble on the homefront and the loss of Capetown, British imperialism is alive and well. It remains to be seen how successful the Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Belgians and Germans have been abroad in Novik’s world. I’m really interested to see how she’ll portray the local cultures on the other continents.


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