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Throne of Jade: Temeraire, Book 2
      Black Powder War: Temeraire, Book 3
Naomi Novik
      Naomi Novik
Del Rey, 432 pages
      Del Rey, 400 pages

Throne of Jade
Black Powder War
Naomi Novik
Naomi Novik was born in New York in 1973. A first-generation American, she was raised on Polish fairy tales, Baba Yaga, and Tolkien. She studied English Literature at Brown University and did graduate work in Computer Science at Columbia University before leaving to participate in the design and development of the computer game Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide. She decided to try her hand at novels. Temeraire / His Majesty's Dragon was her first.

Naomi Novik Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: His Majesty's Dragon
SF Site Review: His Majesty's Dragon
SF Site Review: Temeraire / His Majesty's Dragon

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Alma A. Hromic

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Despite the length (400 pages apiece) somehow both these books feel a lot shorter and "lighter" than they ought to.

His Majesty's Dragon, Book 1 of the Temeraire series, was a thoroughly wonderful book. The next two books in the series (one hesitates to call it a trilogy, seeing as the author has indicated that the series will continue, and indeed there is a sampler from Book 4 at the back of Black Powder War) feel like... they should really have been one book.

I must confess to being ever so slightly disappointed at what I thought were missed opportunities in Throne of Jade. Once we got to China, things could have got deeper and more fascinating in a hurry -- and there ought, really, to have been far more on that subject than the light once-over that we got. The potential for positively Machiavellian cross-cultural plot lines was tossed away -- and while I still deeply admire Naomi Novik's ability to nail the language and the behaviour of 19th-century British officers and society, I have to confess feeling a little cheated at this sometimes bogging down at the level of cravats, proper dress coats and polished boots.

What I would have like to see more deeply explored, rather than Will Laurence's relationship with his subalterns, was his sudden and elevation to a deeply unexpected place in Chinese society -- which, I have to admit, I cannot believe was carried off as smoothly and adroitly as was portrayed in Throne of Jade. I was deeply impressed with the world-building in His Majesty's Dragon -- but in this book Novik chooses to take us away from Britain and her wars, at least physically, and while she is doing so the first half of book two passes in a sort of alternate history travelogue and the second half, the reason for the book, the Chinese subplot, gets short shrift with a reliance on more travelogue and then a startling coup of deus-ex-machina which sets up Black Powder War...

...which picks up admirably in terms of plot, it's gung-ho action all the way, but once again we're sidetracked by an early bout of traveloguing. A beguiling side-trip to yet another exotic destination, this time Istanbul, complete with a fascinating subplot of politics and betrayals and nefarious doings and a whole slew of fascinating new breeds of dragons (including -- finally -- a right and proper fire breather!), still leaves us with the sense that all of this stuff is filler until such time that Novik can return to the battlefields where Bonaparte is inexorably conquering Europe.

The Napoleonic war battles are wonderful. The addition of dragons is seamless, and leaves one wondering just how on earth any of this was ever achieved without them. And yet, I'm not sure if it's just that the characters are being sublimated into a dogged vision of a plot, or if the plot can't quite carry the characters. Somehow all the protagonists -- even Temeraire himself, whom I utterly fell in love with from the first time the gorgeous hatchling of that name was seen stepping from the remains of his egg -- feel a little more two-dimensional in these books than they did in His Majesty's Dragon. The character who caught and held me in these two books was the mysterious half-breed guide of hard-to-pin-down loyalties, and it's always a problem when a secondary character who isn't even always on stage ends up stealing the show.

Having said all that, the setup for Book 4 is breathtaking, and I will definitely be waiting eagerly for that. Like Tolkien, I've always yearned for dragons with a profound desire, and Novik delivers on that score. Temeraire and, now, the young Iskierka (problem-child, hatched in the midst of battle and ready to go to war before the egg slime had fully dried on her wings) have me numbered in their fans, and that's for keeps.

It's just... the Napoleonic wars, the real ones in the real history, went on for so long, and they were so full of defeats and depression for the side of which Novik writes, that I have to earnestly hope that Temeraire continues to be able to leaven the disasters with his ability to often make me smile, and sometimes laugh our loud.

Final verdict -- the books could have been a more satisfying, deeper read which delved far more into worldbuilding and other cultures, and had plenty of opportunities, which were not taken up, for being this. But even without that dimension they are a damn fine adventure read. And Temeraire rules.

Copyright © 2006 Alma A. Hromic

Alma A. Hromic, addicted (in random order) to coffee, chocolate and books, has a constant and chronic problem of "too many books, not enough bookshelves." When not collecting more books and avidly reading them (with a cup of coffee at hand), she keeps busy writing her own. Her international success, The Secrets of Jin Shei, has been translated into ten languages worldwide, and its follow-up, Embers of Heaven, is coming out in 2006. She is also the author of the fantasy duology The Hidden Queen and Changer of Days, and is currently working on a new YA trilogy to be released in the winter of 2006.


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