Thursday, May 10, 2018

Black Powder War, by Naomi Novik

Today I'm looking at the third book in the Temeraire series, Black Powder War. The book begins where Throne of Jade left off, with Temeraire, Captain Will Laurence, and still in China. The crew are planning to travel with the dragon carrier Allegiance back to Britain via the Cape of Good Hope when an emergency message from the admiralty arrives from overland. Temeraire and Laurence are ordered to head directly for Istanbul and take possession of three dragon eggs and return them to Scotland post haste. Considering our heroes are halfway around the world and there should be British dragons in the Mediterranean, they find these orders rather curious and it implies the military situation back home has deteriorated in the year since they left. After some wrangling, the crew decide to head back overland, hoping to shave at least some time off by avoiding waiting for repairs for the Allegiance and taking a more direct route.

A pretty significant chunk of the book is spent on getting Temeraire, Laurence, and company from China across the center of Asia and finally to Istanbul. Considering the terrain they have to cover includes some of the world's larger deserts this is hardly a simple task and our heroes have to face the challenges of feeding and watering a dragon when logistics are hardly easy, as well as fighting off brigands and feral dragons.

The last half of the book brings our characters out of the wilderness and back into the struggle of European politics. Arriving in Istanbul our protagonists find the British ambassador dead, his staff gone, and all requests for information regarding the purchase of dragon eggs blocked by a byzantine network of pashas and advisers. Eventually our heroes have to take matters into their own hands. Under the logic that the eggs have already been paid for and therefore are British property, the crew breaks out of the sultan's palace and absconds with the eggs. Unfortunately they lose one of the eggs during their escape, but more concerning still the egg of a valuable fire-breathing species is mere weeks away from hatching.

The final part of the book is probably what I enjoyed the most, and that's because Laurence and Temeraire head for the relatively safe harbor of Prussia. (My people). The Prussians have decided to bring their much-vaunted military against Napoleon and expect an easy victory. If you're a student of history like myself, then you realize that this is just a prelude to the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt where the Prussians were crushed by the modernized French forces, prompting a flurry of civil and military reforms in Prussia that enabled it to become a key player in the victorious Sixth Coalition. However Novik manages to capture the stunning overconfidence of the Prussians prior to their thrashing at Jena-Auerstedt and makes even me shake my head at the poor deluded fools. Despite their need to get back home to Britain, Laurence and Temeraire find themselves dragooned into Prussian service and if not unable, at least unwilling to leave the Prussians in the lurch. Apparently the British promised the Prussians the support of a wing of twenty dragons, but those dragons never arrived. This raises more questions about the situation back home in Britain and perhaps things have gotten worse while our characters have been away. Hopefully we'll get some answers in the next book.

Another thing I really enjoyed is when Iskierka, the dragon close to hatching finally does hatch. Appropriate for a fire-breathing dragon she is an absolute firecracker and from the moment she hatches she's ready to go into a fight with the French. I found her absolutely hilarious and I'm hoping to see more of her in the later books.

Overall, I think this was pretty good. There are some funny bits and I feel like Novik is at least incorporating dragons into Napoleonic Wars in a way that makes it plausible. As I said in my last review, if you like dragons and you like the Napoleonic Era, this is a book worth reading.

- Kalpar

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