I have enjoyed this unusual alternate history series for two reasons – firstly, I’m a sucker for dragons and secondly, Novik’s handling of the main characters has been imaginative and skilful. She has managed to provide Termeraire and Laurence with a variety of challenges and different landscapes as they have roved across the planet trying to survive, or halt Napoleon’s ambition. See my review of Victory of Eagles here, my review of Tongues of Serpents here and my review of Crucible of Gold here.
Shipwrecked in Japan, along with no memory, Laurence quickly draws attention and becomes untangled (sic) in political intrigues that could not only prove deadly to him, but also destroy England’s position in the Far East. Old enmities and suspicions have turned the region into a powder keg, and Temeraire’s search for his captain may unwittingly ignite the gunpowder, providing new enemies for Britain just when they most desperately need friends. Napoleon has turned on his former ally, Emperor Alexander, and is leading an army of unimaginable size to the gates of Moscow.
And there you have most of the back cover blurb – complete with spelling blooper… Shame on the editor who let that through – if traditional publishers cannot even provide a faultless cover, they are thoroughly letting down their authors. However, in fairness, I don’t recall seeing any mistakes within the reasonably long book. But then I was seriously engrossed in the story…
This is, for my money, one of the best instalments in this long-running series for a long time – and as you’ll see from my reviews, this isn’t to say that any of the books have been bad. But I loved the opening, which immediately took us away from the familiar scenario. And while Laurence and Temeraire have been separated in the past, Laurence’s amnesia takes him back in time to before he met and bonded with Temeraire – so the crisis in their relationship is that Laurence isn’t even aware of what he has lost. As ever, Novik’s restrained 19th century feel in her prose still managed to depict all the emotional undercurrents which means that I really care about the protagonists and remain hooked by the storyline.
I love Temeraire, anyhow – the impulsive, hot-headed nature of the dragons always comes across very clearly. But if you haven’t read this series before – don’t begin at this point, go back to the first book Temeraire – while Novik is far too skilful to keep any stray readers adrift for long, there is so much enjoyable, riveting backstory you are denying yourself if you plunge in that this point in the narrative arc. However, while listening to Temeraire squabbling with Iskierka may lull you into a sense of their charming contrariness – seeing how the Russian ferals behave also provides an insight into why the Russian military treat their dragons with such savagery. It comes from fear…
This book tips into the beginning of one of the most remarkable and terrible times in history – Napoleon’s foray into Russia. This dragon-added version is no less gripping – and those of you who may have some knowledge of the historical facts will appreciate Novik’s exhaustive research and clever weaving of fact with fiction that has been the hallmark of this series. As for me – I was bitterly disappointed when the book came to the end, which is always a symptom of a really good read – and very much looking forward to the next slice of Laurence and Temeraire’s adventures. If you haven’t come across this series, I highly recommend it.