Serena’s Review: “Empire of Ivory”

129510Book: “Empire of Ivory” by Naomi Novik

Publishing Info: Del Rey, September 2007

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

Book Description: Tragedy has struck His Majesty’s Aerial Corps, whose magnificent fleet of fighting dragons and their human captains valiantly defend England’s shores against the encroaching armies of Napoleon Bonaparte. An epidemic of unknown origin and no known cure is decimating the noble dragons’ ranks–forcing the hopelessly stricken into quarantine. Now only Temeraire and a pack of newly recruited dragons remain uninfected–and stand as the only means of an airborne defense against France’s ever bolder sorties.

Bonaparte’s dragons are already harrowing Britain’s ships at sea. Only one recourse remains: Temeraire and his captain, Will Laurence, must take wing to Africa, whose shores may hold the cure to the mysterious and deadly contagion. On this mission there is no time to waste, and no telling what lies in store beyond the horizon or for those left behind to wait, hope, and hold the line. 

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

Review: I continue to power through this series! Not much new to add to this intro: I still am enjoying the heck out of the story. The audiobook narrator is awesome which is part of the reason I’m speeding through so quickly as they’re all available at my local library with pretty much no wait time to speak of. If you do like audibooks, this is definitely a series that translates well into that format. So, without further ado, on to the review!

Lawrence and Temeraire have finally made it back home. But the warm welcome they had both been anticipating to keenly for the last several months is not to be found. Instead, their friends and almost all of the other dragons have been struck down by a slow, deadly disease. Not only is this a massive personal strike, as watching their friends suffer is torturous indeed, but with Napoleon’s forces progressing so steadily on the continent, the loss of England’s aerial corps would spell sure doom for the nation. Now, on a desperate mission to find a cure, Temeraire and Lawrence return to the cape of Africa. But all is not well there either, as forces are at work that are greater than they, or anyone, could expect.

As I’m sure I mentioned in one of my past reviews, one of the things I enjoy the most about this book is how Novik has used the introduction of dragons throughout the world to re-arrange cultures and histories. Cultures and historic events are still recognizable, but everything is also slightly different. China was largely the same. However the dragons they revered were living breathing animals who walked their streets. England is a nation that prides itself on its navy, with the dragons and the aerial corp coming second. Napoleon is still a masterful strategist, only now we see his schemes play out with the use of dragons, as well.

But here we begin to see how the introduction of dragons into the world could have major effects on cultures and history. For one, the disease that strikes down the dragons is thought to have come across the ocean from North America on one of their local dragons. This is an interesting twist on the tragic loss of life that came from the introduction of new diseases into the Americas. Now we see it travel the other direction and strike down dragons instead of humans. There are also a lot of conversations about the challenges of colonization into parts of the world that have dragons. Not only do the indigenous peoples in these worlds have differing relationships with their native dragons, but there are feral dragons as well to content with.

I particularly enjoyed new role for dragons within a culture that is introduced in this book. We get a good look into some African nations and the ways that dragons are viewed there. And the book does a good job of highlighting just how huge that continent is and that while the tribes they encounter have one way of doing things, that is in no way representative of the continent as a whole.

The story itself is action packed. By this point in the story, we have a good connection with the dragons as a whole, particularly the ones that form Temeraire and Lawrence’s closer friend group. So the urgency behind their mission is felt keenly. But added on to this story is a greater conflict that is growing in Africa between the native peoples, the colonies, and the ongoing slave trade. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I loved how, again, Novik is giving herself free license to play with history, all centering around one key change: the introduction of dragons.

I’m of course still loving Temeraire and Lawrence’s lovely friendship. However, with all of the action that is slotted into this book, these personal relationship moments do take a bit of a back burner. Given the events in the last portion of the book, however, I expect that this part of the story will get more attention in the next in the series. Speaking of the end, again, it does seem to come out of nowhere (this may have something to do with the my reading the audiobook where I’m less sure of where I am in the story at any given moment). It is also the most like a cliffhanger we’ve seen so far in the series. But as the next book is out and the series is completed, I don’t see this as much of a problem! Just added fuel to my fire to keep on reading!

Rating 9: Still excellent! I love that the author is giving herself more room to really play with history in these later books.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Empire of Ivory” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Military Fantasy” and “A Re-imagined British Empire.”

Find “Empire of Ivory” at your library using WorldCat!

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