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.