Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Black Powder War - Naomi Novik

This is the third in Novik's Temeraire series; I think it's still only out in hardback in the UK, but luckily the US paperback's not too hard to get hold of. It starts off pretty much where we left the previous one, with Laurence and his dragon crew still in China, desperate to return to England and their duties in the war against Napoleon. We had the sea voyage on their way out; for the way back, they take the dangerous overland route, as they are urgently needed in Istanbul, and the transport ship is too damaged to take them for weeks. With only the dubious courier Tharkay to guide them, they must risk the perilous Gobi and Taklamakan deserts; not only has one of their Chinese enemies preceded them, but things in Istanbul are also not what they expect...

While not quite as good as Temeraire, this is certainly better than Throne of Jade, and has a lot more dragon-battle action, as Temeraire finally gets to engage with Napoleon's forces in Europe. There's a certain amount of inscrutable Oriental politicking during their sojourn in Istanbul, but this takes up much less time than its Beijing equivalent and we are back to the action much sooner. Temeraire himself still doesn't get that much time in the spotlight, but this is made up for by the introduction of Tharkay, whose character makes an interesting contrast with the other military members of the cast. Laurence himself remains a convincing 18th-century captain, surprisingly likeable for all his gentlemanly morals.

Slipped into the narrative are more snippets of worldwide dragonlore - for example, we meet some feral dragons in eastern Turkey with their own language, and Temeraire continues to develop his plans for dragon liberation back home. However, the cracks are starting to show at the edges of the worldbuilding; as the progress of the Napoleonic Wars starts to diverge from the real-world history, it's hard not to wonder how on earth Novik's dragon-riddled Earth followed the same course as ours for so long, if it can be thrown off so easily. Still, this was a very readable book, and I'm sure I can keep my disbelief suspended for at least a few more instalments. Bring on book 4!



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