Saturday, January 22, 2011

Girl on Book Action: Black Powder War by Naomi Novik

Black Powder War by Naomi Novik
ISBN: 978-0-345-48130-6
Aside:  Since this is the third book in a series, I will warn you now that the blurb will likely have spoilers for the first two parts.  Should you wish to avoid those, but are interested in the Temeraire series you can read my review of Part One here!.


After their fateful adventure in China, Capt. Will Laurence of His Majesty’s Aerial Corps and his extraordinary dragon, Temeraire, are waylaid by a mysterious envoy bearing urgent new orders from Britain.  Three valuable dragon eggs have been purchased from the Ottoman Empire, and Laurence and Temeraire must detour to Istanbul to escort the precious cargo back to England.  Time is of the essence if the eggs are to be borne home before hatching.

Yet, disaster threatens the mission at every turn – thanks to the diabolical machinations of the Chinese dragon Lien, who blames Temeraire for her master’s death and vows to ally herself with Napoleon and take vengeance.  Then, faced with shattering betrayal in an unexpected place, Laurence, Temeraire, and their squad must launch a daring offensive.  But what chance do they have against the massed forces of Bonaparte’s implacable army?


My Thoughts:

After reading Throne of Jade way back in September, I wasn’t in a mood to get back to Temeraire for a while, but since book three has been sitting on my to-be-read shelf for some time, I thought it was about time to give him another go.  I have to say, I enjoyed Black Powder War quite a bit more than its predecessor, even though it features various new and long journeys, thankfully none of them by sea.

One of the things that worked for me in this book is the inclusion of several new, rather charming characters.  The first of these is Tharkay, the messenger and guide.  He’s a sneaky sort and likes to disappear without notice in the midst of things only to come back and save the day.  Of course, by that time everyone has cursed him for being a coward and deserter.  Just my kind of guy, really.  Another is the band of feral dragons that Temeraire and his crew encounter on their long overland journey.  I can’t quite put my finger on why I was so pleased with them, but I was charmed with their brazen and blustering leader Arkady, as well as some of the others.  Last, is the new hatchling – and I’m not even going to try to spell her name – with her forceful personality and bristling temperament, fitting for a fire-breathing dragon.

Temeraire has a larger role again in this novel and since he is by far my favourite character I was happy to see it.  I have to admit, at times the things this dragon says make me snort with laughter.  Sometimes, I wish that the books were told from his point of view instead of Laurence’s.  I find Laurence to be unlikeable which does nothing to lessen this desire.  He’s well-written, but really gets on my nerves sometimes.  At least he’s showing considerable growth in each installment, which makes him less irritatingly rigid and formal.

Spoilers ahead!  The story did feel like it was dragging again in certain parts.  Primarily, things slowed down late in the second act and then the ending felt abrupt. I think after all the trouble taken to describe the wretched crossing of the Prussian states and Napoleon doing a great job of conquering all, a last chapter to wrap things up and see Temeraire and his crew back to England might have been nice.  It’s clear that they are safe and able to return to Britain after their ingenious escape, but there were a few loose ends I wanted to see addressed before the book was over.  Of course, I have no doubt that all of those will be sorted out in the next installment.  And yet, this fact does little to lessen the sense of this book being somewhat incomplete.  The seas are once more spoiler-free.

Overall, I still love the setting, the alternate history and the dragons.  I enjoy seeing how different cultures approach the dragons, too, which all the travelling really highlights in each of the novels.  This is to say, despite some minor disappointments (and still not liking Laurence very much) I’m definitely going to be picking up further installments to see what Temeraire does next.  I’m especially intrigued to see how he fares with improving the conditions of the dragons and how the humans treat their draconic partners.  Also, I hope Tharkay stays on and the feral dragons, especially Arkady.

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