Naomi Novik


The third book in the Temeraire –series continues the adventures of Captain William Laurence of His Majesty’s Aerial Corps and Temeraire, his dragon.

The book starts soon after the previous one ends so here there be spoilers for the previous books.

Temeraire and Laurence are still in China and homesick. Alas, their ship Allegiance is badly burned and it looks like they are stuck in China for three more months. However, when Laurence receives an urgent mission to Istanbul from the Aerial corps, he has no choice but to try to go overland. He tries his best to map a course and even hires a guide Tharkey to help their journey.

The journey is hard. Even though Temeraire can at first fly the men for quite a long way but the dragon needs also quite a lot of water and meat every day which means that the crossing of the deserts become difficult. They also encounter a group of wild dragons much to Temeraire’s delight and are attacked by bandits. When they reach Istanbul matters become muddier to Laurence’s surprise. He had been sent to recover three dragon eggs which England has supposedly bought from the Ottoman Empire. However, the only Ottoman minister who deigns to welcome the English crew, claims that the English have not paid for them. Laurence don’t know what to believe.

This book again broadens our view of the world. In addition to the China and the Ottoman Empire we also see the Russians and the Prussians, and the way they treat their respective dragons. While the latter two nations seem to treat their dragons much the same way as the English, in the Ottoman Empire some dragons are Muslims. Alas, we are often given just a glimpse to this fascinating culture.

His time in China has inspired Temeraire to have plans to raise the status of dragons in England. He wants to be able to own things legally and to be paid for the work he does. He even suggests to Laurence that dragons should have a voice in the government. While Laurence agrees with Temeraire, he strongly suspects that that’s not going to happen. Most English don’t want to view dragons as more than animals and would not want to be governed by them. His suspicions haunt him and he almost feels like he’s lying to Temeraire. He also suspects that Temeraire would have been better off if he had stayed in China. I’m curious to see what Temeraire will do when he realized that his dreams cannot be come true.

The wild dragons are on the surface mostly a comic relief. However, they are a mirror to Temeraire and the whole episode is reminiscent of how older books treated non-white people. In essence, Temeraire is the “tamed” non-white person who is a slave or a servant to his masters. Yet, he sees his place as better than the wild ones who are to him uneducated and uncivilized. Also, the episode challenges the humans’ knowledge of wild dragons who are thought to really be animals. Tharkey is another non-white person. He’s father is an Englishman but her mother is a native woman and so, he’s a loner accepted by no one. He also doesn’t want acceptance but instead expects rejection no matter what he does. I rather liked him.

The structure of this book is closer to the first in the series unlike the second one. The plot is mostly a journey with a lot of battles and some mysteries as well. There are a lot of characters which we meet in different locations and yet they tend to be more than just faces in the crowd.

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The second book in the delightful Temeraire –series. They are historical fantasy set in the Napoleonic Wars with dragons. The dragons are huge and capable of carrying whole crews of men.

In the previous book, Naval Captain Will Laurence acquired the dragon Temeraire and they formed a strong and lasting bond. However, now the Chinese have revealed that Temeraire is a Chinese dragon and they want him back – preferably without the low-born English Captain. Temeraire is a rare Celestial dragon and so, their handlers in China are royalty.

The English government wants to keep good relations with China and some go even so far that they want Laurence to lie to Temeraire so that the dragon would leave voluntarily. But Temeraire doesn’t want to be separated from Laurence and refuses to believe that Laurence would exchange him for another dragon. When the Admiral tries to force Laurence to give up Temeraire, the dragon takes Laurence and flies away. Against orders, they join the battle against the French.

After the battle, Laurence is almost court marshaled for his actions, or rather Temeraire’s actions. However, Temeraire’s insistence convinces the Chinese envoy, the Emperor’s brother Prince Yongxing, that the dragon won’t leave without Laurence. Therefore, both Laurence and the dragon are sent by sea to China. The Chinese delegation and the British crew are suspicious of each other so the long voyage isn’t going to be a comfortable one.

The long sea voyage aboard the warship Allegiance takes up the vast majority of the book. There are three distinct groups aboard the ship: the air crew, the Navy men, and the Chinese delegation. Even the two British groups aren’t too comfortable with each other.

There’s only one huge air battle in the book near the beginning. However, there are smaller skirmished throughout the book providing lots of action. Politics provides motivations to many characters but Laurence isn’t a politician and he isn’t comfortable dealing with politicians such as young Arthur Hammond who is their onboard diplomat. (Alas, I associate the name Hammond with the Stargate’s General, which is very much the wrong association here!)

However, I was more interested in the differences between the Chinese and British cultures. Most of the differences come clear in how differently they treat their dragons. The British Admirals seem to think of the dragons as troops or even just animals while the Chinese have integrated them to their culture more clearly. Different breeds are also treated differently because they are of different class.

Temeraire is also very curious about these differences. He and Laurence also talk a lot about culture in general: slavery and are the British dragons any different from slaves, why woman aren’t allowed to be soldiers while female dragons fight as well as the males etc. I happened to like these a lot but others might think that they just slow the book down.

The Chinese are said to be the best dragon handlers in the world. Still, the Prince manages to completely ignore Temeraire’s own wishes. Through out the whole voyage, the Prince tries to convince Temeraire, both subtly and finally not, that the dragon would be much happier in China with a royal handler. He continues this no matter how sternly Temeraire insists that he doesn’t want to leave England or Laurence. Then again, it’s a very human trait to try to “better” others’ lives without taking into account what these other people want themselves.

I did expect to see more about China but that’s, of course, not the book’s fault. The sea voyage was quite interesting and what little we saw about China was fascinating. I hope that at some point Novik might write a (short) story set in this China.

Overall: a very enjoyable continuation to the series.

Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

To celebrate the Talk Like a Pirate Day, Night Shade Books graciously gave me a review copy of this short story collection about science fiction and fantasy pirates. It’s been on my to-get-list for a while so I was happy. It contains 18 stories from talented writers.

“At least part of the current fascination with pirates, including our own, has to be about freedom, frontiers, a yearning for adventure and a desire to explore exotic locales.” So starts the VanderMeers’ introduction and I fully agree. The stories in this collection are very much about freedom; about the need to be the master of your own life and fate, and to be free of the demands of the society. There are also quite a few exotic locales as you might expect from a SFF collection.

All of the stories are good but some of them stand out to me:

Elizabeth Bear’s and Sarah Monette’s Boojum is a story about Black Alice Bradley who is the newest recruit aboard the alive Boojum spaceship Lavinia Whately. The Boojums eat other spaceships no matter if they are other Boojums or made of steel. The crew finds very interesting cargo aboard the ship they pillage.

In Kage Baker’s I Begyn As I Mean to Go On two runaway slaves are rescued by a pirate ship and they end up having to sign on to the crew. After they pillage a Spanish ship, a dying sailor tells them about his treasure but it turns out to be less traditional than the pirates had hoped for.

Howard Waldrop’s Avast, Abaft! is a humorous tale about the Pirate King who is fleeing the HMS Pinafore. Both crews enjoy singing very much.

In Katharine Sparrow’s Pirate Solutions, three young coders drink rum one night and bite down on the bones at the bottom of the bottles. They find out about their destinies, or previous lives, as pirates. They are determined to bring the tactics of the pirates to the modern world and so they sail away from their current lives.

Paul Batteiger’s A Cold Day in Hell is set above the frozen sea where ships run on skates. The commander of the Ranger and the Jane, one English Leftenant Drake, is chasing the dread pirate Captain Frost.

Naomi Novik’s Araminta or, The Wreck of the Amphidrake is set in an alternate world with working magic. Lady Araminta is a headstrong young woman who is sent to the Colonies to marry and settled down. But on the way, pirates attack.

In Garth Nix’s Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarsköe two men are looking for pirates in order to get them to storm the stronghold of the legendary Scholar-Pirates. Both of them are masquerading as pirates themselves: Sir Hereward as Martin Suresword, the Terror of the Syndical Sea and Mister Fitz as Farolio a living puppet down on his luck. Fitz is in fact a puppet which has been brought to life by magic. However, it seems that the duo bit off a bit more than they can chew when they meet Captain Fury of the Sea-Cat.

The stories were surprisingly different: sailing ship, spaceships, airships, skateships, living ships… One of the stories is written as a logbook and other as memoirs which were interesting techniques that worked well. Two of the stories were about pirate ships’ cooks. Some of the captains were intelligent gentlemen and some evil bastards but all of them were colorful.

Very good collection.

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