Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Review|Tongues of Serpents - Naomi Novik

I've always loved the Temeraire series: its combination of history, dragons (of course!) and an eclectic cast has never failed to win me over, with one exception. That was Victory Of Eagles, and though a decent read, it didn't possess the verve of its predecessors. So, as you can imagine, I was anticipating a return to the series' original quality for Tongues of Serpents. as it happens, I almost got it.

Tongues of Serpents, like the rest of Temeraire, is set in an alternate-history version of the Napoleonic Wars, complete with historical cameos - Bligh is a notable one in this book. However, there's less of this than previous books, as Tongues of Serpents is set in - Australia. Yes, it's hardly out of place for a series that has moved through Britain, China, the Ottoman Empire, parts of France, and even Africa, but it's certainly removed from the main conflict. Surprisingly, Novik pulls this off well.

Laurence and Temeraire, his dragon, have been transported to Australia to serve their sentence. Meeting the governer, Bligh, deposed, and mutineers in charge of the colony means that both their hopes for a pardon - and political neutrality - are in jeopardy. Pressured by both Bligh and the mutineers, their cause is only worsened by the arrival of Rankin, a formerly abusive dragon handler bound for one of the new dragon eggs. Abandoning the capital, they volunteer for a mission through the mountains: to discover a route for a road to the other side of Australia. However, when one of their dragon eggs is stolen, it leads to a pursuit with a very, very surprising end. On the way, they tangle with East India Company representatives, and British trade, Aboriginals and Ayers Rock.

Initially, I was a little disappointed by the plot's direction. I would hve favoured sticking with one: either Bligh and the mutineers, or the chase. However, I would advise readers to keep with it: the journey's end brings the plot of the novel to an excellent resolution. I'm especially glad to see China brought up again - though I won't say how - because I'd come to believe it was somewhat forgotten by Novik, and I'd particularly enjoyed it. (News is that Temeraire will be getting a pavilion in the next book, briging a possible end to that...). Rankin and Caesar were a little odd as a combination, although I came to like them more by its end. The Chinese, as always, were fantastic. Laurence was a little stilted and undeveloped in parts, but definitely grew to life again by the book's middle, and certainly by its end. And finally, I'm particularly glad to see that Novik kept the draconic viewpoint as Temeraire, asking questions that nobody else thinks of, and providing an amusing outside view into the humans' activities.

It may be slow at the start, but Temeraire's viewpoint and the last third of the book more than make up for it:



  1. I too was really excited about this book -- this is such a fantastic series. I agree with your review, it definitely picked up in about the last third, and raised some tough issues. Temeraire as always is a great character, but the book still fell a little short for me. Hope you'll check out my review. You have a nice blog here!

  2. I have picked these books up and looked at tehm a few times. But I never got them. Thanks for the review. I think the Neopalitan era kind of had me a little nervous on whether it would work. But sounds like it does. Thanks!

  3. @ thebookstop:

    Yes, I agree: it fell a little short for me as well. However, the reappearance of the overarching plot at the end of the book, and especially the Chinese expedition really made it up for me, although perhaps not enough to live up to its predecessors. I've checked out your review, and thank you very much for the comment! :)

    @ Melissa:

    Oh, it certainly does, but much more interestingly in the earlier books, which I'd definitely recommend. They're very original, and humourous in context as well, in parts.