Serena’s Review: “Black Powder War”

91989Book: “Black Powder War” by Naomi Novik

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, May 2006

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Picking up where book two left off (in China, Macau) Captain Will Laurence and his extraordinary dragon, Temeraire, are ordered to retrieve and escort a precious cargo of valuable dragon eggs from Istanbul to England. They take the Old Silk Road from China to Istanbul, crossing deserts and mountains. En route to England, they help the beleaguered Prussians battle Napoleon.

Previously Reviewed: “His Majesty’s Dragon” and “Throne of Jade”

Review: Trucking along with this series! Once you get me started, there’s no stopping me! Well, the waiting list at the library for the audiobook does hold me up…mostly because I love the narrator for this book so much that I refuse to read it in any other format now. So really, it’s my own pickiness that is holding me up. But really, it’s also probably for the best, as it’s always nice to have a solid series on the back burner that one can return to if ever caught in the midst of a string of bad luck reads. That’s not the case right now, really. I just couldn’t resist.

Lawrence and Temeraire are anxious to return home to England and rejoin their fellows in the war against Napoleon. They are also tasked with picking up a few dragon eggs on their way home. After a few unfortunate events, a sea voyage ends up being off the table as means of travel, and they’re forced to prepare for an over-land expedition. Along the way they face challenges of terrain, both mountain and desert, as well as rogue dragons and shady political figures. They also eventually find themselves caught up in the war itself on the continent, pulled before dueling loyalties: their honor to the foreign allies and the urgency to deliver the dragon eggs before they hatch.

As my reviews indicate, the first two books in this series took me a bit by surprise. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was getting into when I started the series (many books that feature dragons have clear tropes, none of which were found here), and the second book went in a new direction even from that. But now I think I’m starting to settle in and it all comes down to a similar theme: Lawrence and Temeraire go on adventures! Not only has each book taken place in very different locations and featured very difference challenges, foes, and comrades. But within each book are a series of mini adventures that the two friends must navigate.

In this one, we have another travel adventure for the first half of the book, as the pair and their crew leave China and make their way across Asia towards their home. Along the way, they must battle the elements, getting into some dire circumstances in the mountains and in a sandstorm. I was also excited when they ran into a group of feral dragons. As the series has progressed, it’s become clear that Lawrence and many people in general, don’t truly understand dragons and what they are capable of. There have been a lot of preconceptions that Temeraire has proved false, about dragon intelligence and individuality. Throughout it all, we’ve often heard about feral dragons as those that can’t be tamed or made to work with people. I very much enjoyed the way they were worked into the story and the foibles of the mini dragon society we see here.

I was also excited to see a return to the military aspect of the story. The first book had a brief battle scene towards the end of the book, and the second one had very little in this regard. But half way through this book, we really dive into the military tactics of dragons. I like the way Novik highlighted how different countries have had different approaches to how they use their aerial corps, a detail that continues the heighten the believability of dragons fighting in the Napoleonic wars.

Further, we began to see how dragons themselves can contribute to these types of military strategies, with Temeraire putting to use his knowledge for formations and strategy for in-air battle. I also really liked the way we see Napoleon use his dragons in very clever ways, making his military brilliance transfer just as well to this fantastical element. We also see how the presence of dragons could influence the outcome of some of these historic events in ways that you wouldn’t necessarily anticipate.

The ending did seem to kind of come out of the blue, however, with things building up to a climax and then quickly ending. I’m not sure the pacing of the story overall was quite right, in this regard. But other than, I’m still thoroughly enjoying this series!

Rating 8: I particularly enjoyed the return to the military aspects of the story in this one.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Black Powder War” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Alternate History Novels and Stories” and “Dragon Books NOT ROMANCE.”

Find “Black Powder War” at your library using WorldCat!

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