BLACK POWDER WAR
Naomi Novik

 


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Third in the Temeraire Series
Del Rey, May 2006
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Historical fantasy. The Napoleonic Wars

Captain Laurence and his companion, the dragon Temeraire, are stuck in China. One mischance after another stops them from sailing. When an urgent new assignment arrives from their government, they are only too glad to shake loose from all the problems and head for home overland, even though it means crossing two continents.

The orders are to pick up three dragon eggs which have been bought from Istanbul, and bring them to Britain. This isnít as simple as you might think, even with a large flying dragon in the company. A lot of the Asian land route is desert. Temeraire wonít be able to carry enough to feed himself and his crew all the way across. It must be a ground trek for a lot of the way, with a trail guide they canít be sure they can trust.

Even after the scouring sand, raiding tribesmen and feral dragons, Istanbul is not the end of the trail. Napoleonís army is overrunning Europe, and there is an implacable, more personal enemy determined to see their hopes destroyed. Home is still a long way off.

Readers of the Temeraire series already know most of Temeraireís party, a tight-knit but gradually dwindling crew of trained aviators who have managed to survive the dangers of the road. They find helpers here and there, some of them quite unexpected. Their guide, Tharkay, is an enigma who has embraced his outcast condition. Itís good to have a guide who can save the day when he chooses, even though he doesnít always choose to. Arkady, leader of a flock of feral dragons, is an entertaining savage who may be more trouble than he is worth. Then there is Iskierka, a new dragon character whom Ė please heaven Ė we may see much more of, because she is as much fun for us as she is trouble for Temeraire and the crew. It is a blessing to find oneself laughing helplessly after a catastrophic military retreat.

The adventures of Temeraire and Laurence and their party are desperately involving, because we care so much about the Ė I was going to say people, and then remembered Temeraire isnít a person. He is a sentient being, though, and determined to be granted the rights that humans have. So I will call him a person and hope his twenty-ton gratitude isnít too overwhelming. Iskierka, too, has quite a lot to say to anyone who doesnít grant her equal status.

Author Naomi Novikís Temeraire series is rapidly growing into one of the most exciting historical fantasies around. It has the charm, tension, humor, and fascination of the Harry Potter series. Like Harry Potter, it is basically a story in several installments; but this one is written for adults, because death is a fact of war. Starting with the first book, HIS MAJESTYíS DRAGON, and on to whatever comes next after BLACK POWDER WAR, this is a series whose each new release should be an event.

July 2006

[Sep 23, 2006 Note: The Hollywood Reporter reports that Peter Jackson has optioned the Temeraire series.]

 

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