Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tongues of Serpents (Review)

Since I was first introduced to them I've been a huge fan of Naomi Novik's Temeraire series. The best snap description I can give for the uninitiated is 'Master and Commander...with dragons'.

The series begins with Captain Will Lawrence of the Royal Navy capturing a French frigate. On it is a rare prize - an unhatched dragon egg. As everyone knows, if a dragon is to become civilized and manageable, it must be 'harnessed' at hatching by a human companion. (The harness is quite literal). Henceforth, its affection for its companion or 'captain' is what controls the great beast. And this egg is about to hatch. Lawrence's life is turned upside down when the dragon will accept no hand but his. As captain to Temeraire he must leave the navy to which he has dedicated his life to become one of the admired, yet shunned aviators of Her Majesty's Aerial Corps. He has to adjust to the lax discipline of the corps...and to the hidden, shocking scandal of female officers being held as in every way equal to men (Britain's most valued and feared dragons, the acid spitting longwings, will accept only women as captains).

From there it continues...a rollicking good read the entire way, with thematic undertones of racism and the evils of slavery.

Tongues of Serpents is the most recent volume...and I wish I could honestly recommend it.

Lawrence and Temeraire have been struck from the service in disgrace and exiled to Australia, where they must deal with the unpleasant governor Bligh, politics, rebellion and the monsters of the interior. Sadly? That's about all of a plot there is. The book reads like a travelog and an excuse to explore Australia, whilst really revealing nothing of actual interest. The ending is so wholly unsatisfying that I have ended up both afraid and hopeful that this is the end.

Novik has not entirely lost her touch. Her characters, both human and dragon, are deftly drawn in a few strokes. Temeraire is, as ever, far more adorably cute than a dragon the size of a small ship has any right to be (especially when, much to his mortification, the dragon surgeon forbids him to speak). It really is a lot of fun, but it lacks substance and satisfaction.