Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Review: "Victory of Eagles" by Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik picks up where she left readers hanging with the last installment in her fantastic reimagining of the Napoleonic Wars in "Victory of Eagles."

A short time has passed since the final scene of "Empire of Ivory," when the dragon Temeraire and his captain Laurence were being taken into custody by British officials for providing Napoleon with a cure for the deadly disease that they hoped would devastate the French dragon corps. Laurence has been convicted of treason, but is being kept alive to make sure Temeraire remains cooperative. Temeraire, the rarest of dragons, has been sent to the breeding grounds where they hope he will pass on his Celestial genes, particularly his devastating weapon, the Divine Wind. Needless to say, he is not very happy with the development.

When rumor reaches Temeraire that Laurence has been killed in a French attack on the ship that was trans-porting him, he mobilizes the other dragons of the breeding grounds into an army of uncaptained dragons with the goal of vengeance on the French.

One of the strengths of the series to this point has been Novik's ability to make the tales believable. She writes of the dragons with the same flair and spirit that Patrick O'Brian writes his naval adventures. But here, she begins to stretch the bounds of credulity. Surprisingly, that stretch has nothing to do with the dragons that are flying around. Rather, it gets harder and harder for the reader to understand Laurence's tortured sense of duty.

It's obvious no one wants him around. He has a dragon that's itching to fly away. They can return to Temeraire's homeland of China and live like royalty, or go anywhere else in the world for that matter. Of course, I suppose flying off and living happily ever after wouldn't make for a very good adventure.

There's also the matter of the social issues that Novik has injected into the story. While the dragons' fight to be recognized as thinking beings rather than dumb beasts takes a great leap in this book, it feels a bit rushed with the formerly obstinate officials in power agreeing far more easily than it seems they would. While these things don't ruin the book, they do invade a bit on the suspension of disbelief that's required to enjoy it.

That said, "Victory of Eagles" is still an engaging book, and the personalities, particularly of the dragons, are still the main attraction. At the same time, it doesn't capture my imagination in the way that the earlier books in the series did. Here's hoping for a little less of the tortured sinner from Laurence and a little more adventure in the next one.

On a side note, Peter Jackson has optioned the first four books in the series. Should a movie ever develop, it should make a stunning subject for Jackson's treatment.

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