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!

Kate’s Review: “Patron Saints of Nothing”

42166429._sy475_Book: “Patron Saints of Nothing” by Randy Ribay

Publishing Info: Kokila, June 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: A powerful coming-of-age story about grief, guilt, and the risks a Filipino-American teenager takes to uncover the truth about his cousin’s murder. 

Jay Reguero plans to spend the last semester of his senior year playing video games before heading to the University of Michigan in the fall. But when he discovers that his Filipino cousin Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs, and no one in the family wants to talk about what happened, Jay travels to the Philippines to find out the real story.

Hoping to uncover more about Jun and the events that led to his death, Jay is forced to reckon with the many sides of his cousin before he can face the whole horrible truth — and the part he played in it.

As gripping as it is lyrical, Patron Saints of Nothing is a page-turning portrayal of the struggle to reconcile faith, family, and immigrant identity.

Review: There are some days that I open up my news feed and just feel utter despondency. There are so many horrible things going on in the world right now that they sometimes blur together for me, and then I become peripherally aware of some but not as knowledgeable about others. This is representative of my general awareness/lack of knowledge about Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, and his human rights record, specifically the fact that his ‘war on drugs’ has led to numerous murders and deaths of drug addicts and dealers all under government approval. Given that I knew a little bit about his policies (and how much they horrify me), my knowledge of Filipino society, culture, and history, both before and during his rule, is scant. So I was very interested in reading “Patron Saints of Nothing”  by Randy Ribay, as it focuses on these themes yet is written for an audience who may be unfamiliar. I buckled up for an emotional ride.

“Patron Saints of Nothing” approaches the controversial Duterte regime and its policies through the eyes of a Filipino-American teenager whose cousin Jun was killed, supposedly because of drugs. Jay is a good way for the audience to connect to the story, as while he himself was raised by a Filipino father, his American experience (and his father’s personal need to assimilate) has superseded his Filipino culture. But guilt and sadness over his cousin’s death is the perfect motivator to send him on this personal journey where he will learn about himself and also the culture that he hasn’t paid much attention to, or has taken for granted. As Jay learns about the society that Jun lived and died in, we are presented with a crash course of information about the modern day Philippines and the policies of the Duterte regime. Jay sees Duterte and his policies through American/Western eyes and values, and while he talks about the violence and the human rights violations that are incredibly disturbing, there is a stark contrast to how many Filipinos feel about said policies. I really liked how Ribay definitely addressed how brutal and corrupt this dictatorship is, and addresses the Marcos dictatorship as well, but also doesn’t pass judgement on those who live there who may not feel the same way. One really good example of this is Jay’s uncle Tito Maning, who is a government official and is incredibly loyal to Duterte, so loyal that he sees his own son’s death as justified. Ribay isn’t hesitant to show what kind of environment this man has fostered within his own family, and is absolutely critical of his blind loyalty and its consequences. But at the same time, Tito Maning isn’t a moustache twirling villain. Ribay makes sure to show how someone like him could still be loyal, in spite of his loyalty costing him is son, and how his choices aren’t as black and white as our own personal experience might perceive them to be.

The mystery about what happened to Jun is also well done and well paced. Jay has to make connections with family members, friends, and activists to figure out just what happened to his cousin, and I greatly enjoyed following him as he tries to find the puzzle pieces. You get the sense that there is more to the story than that which is presented to Jay, and themes of social justice and activism, and the dangers it can put you in within a dictatorship, are added into the drug war at hand. I didn’t feel much suspense when following this story, but I liked that the stakes were high regardless. What added to this is the epistolary aspect of this book, through letters that Jun sent to Jay over the years. It helps you get a sense of who Jun was outside of a victim of violence, and it helps you understand Jay’s own need to understand what happened to him. There is a lot of sadness permeating this story, sadness about what happened to a young person like Jun, sadness over the injustices of the society he was living in, and sadness for Jay and his own residual guilt, be it earned or not. The mystery also helps Jay learn about himself, but it’s done in a way that doesn’t feel forced or in bad taste. As he learns and connects to his heritage, so too does the reader. 

I really enjoyed “Patron Saints of Nothing”. I felt like it told a unique and needed story, and gave context and voice to realities that are easy to ignore when it comes to human rights issues around the world. I am going to keep my eye on Randy Ribay, because I feel like this is the start of a storied and rich writing career.

Rating 8: A powerful and eye opening story about identity, loss, and standing up for what’s right, “Patron Saints of Nothing” casts a spotlight on a less talked about human rights issue and the complexities that surround it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Patron Saints of Nothing” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Best Asian-American Teen Fiction”.

Find “Patron Saints of Nothing” at your library using WorldCat!

%d bloggers like this: