Friday, February 27, 2009

Black Powder War - Naomi Novik

Black Powder War
Naomi Novik
Ballantine Books
Copyright: 2006

From the back of the book:

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?

Black Powder War is definitely a good sequel to Throne Of Jade, but this has become a series where you need to have read the previous books, starting with His Majesty's Dragon, in order to get all of the details, as this book starts almost immediately after the previous book ended.

With this third book in the Temeraire series, we return from China to the Napoleonic war in Europe. Along the way of the return, as this is mostly a traveling book, there are some fascinating descriptions of landscapes and cultures, along with some very ambiguous characters, such as the guide, Tharkay. Actually, I found his background, for all there are no details given, to be fascinating. Of course, I am rather partial to books set in Imperial India, such as The Far Pavilions and Shadows of the Moon, so that would catch my attention.

Naomi Novik has proven herself adept at writing scenes of desolation and abandonment. I could almost hear the wind whistling as I was reading this book, or feel the cold and thirst.

On the other hand, this was the most depressing of the Temeraire series so far. New enemies, betrayals, you name it. Nothing seemed to go right for the characters at all until almost the end of the book, and even then, it really is a matter of degree.

Temeraire himself is still fascinating, curious about everything around him, intelligent, determined (sometimes to the detriment and frustration of Will Laurence, which can be amusing as he tries to distract the dragon with little success).

Feral dragons have been mentioned time and again in the earlier books, but little is said about them. Now, in Black Powder War, we finally get to see a bit of what they are like, which is likely to have implications far beyond the ending of this book. At the same time, we learn more about dragons minds and emotions.

Unlike the first two books, the ending of Black Powder War doesn't really end the story as there are still a number of unresolved points, and the war is still going on. Both His Majesty's Dragon and Throne Of Jade, although they were part of series, had the feeling of an ending when I turned the last page. This one didn't, and the ending snippet only heightened that feeling. Instead of an excerpt from a book on dragons, this book ended with a letter from an English priest, which I suspect might have implications for the events (and Temeraire's hopes and plans) in the next book.

Overall, I really liked the book, and if you're a fantasy fan or simply like stories with dragons I have to recommend this series.

So far, the books in the series are:
His Majesty's Dragon
Throne Of Jade
Black Powder War
Empire Of Ivory
Victory Of Eagles

Other reviews of this book:
Strategist's Personal Library: Black Powder War by Naomi Novik
Cerebrate Contemplations: Throne Of Jade, Black Powder War, Empire Of Ivory

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