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Naomi Novik - Empire of Ivory

By virtue of getting (temporarily) stuck on John M Ford's Web of Angels, and a somewhat sleepless night, I read this more or less in a sitting - rare for me these days.

This is the fourth of the Temeraire series, in which we follow the progress of Temeraire, the rare Celestial dragon, and his rider and captain Laurence through the Napoleonic wars, while examining the relationship of Man with Dragon.

In the first, Temeraire, the man Laurence impressed the dragon Temeraire, and the two of them embark on careers in the Aviator service, in which men and women fly dragons in defence of the British realm against their counterparts in Napoleon's Europe. In the second, Throne of Jade, they travelled to China to discover that Temeraire is a prince of dragons, and that in China the two species co-exist on much more equal terms. I read these first two together last year, and thought them fun, if perhaps over-derivative of, among others, Anne McCaffrey's Pern and C.S. Forester's Hornblower. I've managed to skip number three, Black Powder War, but gather that it covers our two heroes' journey home via Turkey and Prussia. Now I've read Empire of Ivory, in which Laurence and Temeraire travel to Africa in pursuit of their duty. This is still fun, but provides much stronger science fictional meat as Novik develops further possibilities inherent in the co-existence of man and dragon.

Many people have commented that the major problem with the series is that if Novik's dragons existed on this earth we certainly would not have rerun history to fight the Napoleonic wars. If this is a problem in your view, you won't be any happier with this one, since along the way the fictional characters encounter Nelson, Wilberforce and Napoleon himself. Within the overall premise, this book is just as much an action adventure as the others, but that second name gives a clue to a deeper purpose here, I think. In this book Novik Laurence and Temeraire have some very direct experiences with the practice of chattel slavery, and Novik makes explicit use of the history of Wilberforce's efforts to ban slavery in the British Empire. This is used both in background and foreground of the adventure, to provide depth and interest to characters and incidents, and to drive the development of the plot. The result offers hope that this is not just an endless soap-opera, but a story with some weight and depth, and significantly increases the urgency with which I wish to read the next volume.

Minor remarks in addition: Novik has settled into her voice (the prose is not perfect, but I didn't trip over any of the infelicities that troubled me in the first two volumes). She has also rather cleverly plugged some of the holes in her economic and political history, albeit still carefully neglecting to explain how you can afford to keep dragons at all when each dragon eats something between a sheep and a whole cow every day! Maybe in the next volume...

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
soren_nyrond
22nd Oct, 2008 13:30 (UTC)
Flippant comment:
Presumably there are People whose job it is to breed the "something"s. If you're Napoleonic Era, you have ower population, hence more arable land to support more sheep, which will then "turn over" at the higher rate. You will probably need to breed differentially, so that you get an early (january) and a late (april) lambing, to get the population reload. Also, if there is still the Empire, you can outsource some of your something-flesh to Other Nations.
coth
22nd Oct, 2008 16:25 (UTC)
Not to mention elephants.

This is a reference to the book of course.
(Deleted comment)
coth
22nd Oct, 2008 16:22 (UTC)
Read the bookclub hardback and noticed one typo. Not to say there weren't more, but not obtrusive.
del_c
22nd Oct, 2008 19:05 (UTC)
The country can afford it, as long as the dragon is worth it in terms of force projection. If a ship of the line had a crew of 800 and a ration of a pound of beef a day, and a cow was 1,000 pounds, there's your "cow a day". The question becomes only whether a dragon is worth a ship of the line. I haven't read the books, so can't comment.

A mere sheep a day is presumably a lot more realistic.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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