Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Empire of Ivory

Empire of Ivory is the fourth in the "Temeraire" series of fantasy books by Naomi Novik. This series explores an alternate Earth during the Napoleonic era where dragons exist and, indeed, fight in the war, serving as mounts for soldiers sort of like an Air Force. This is a vastly intriguing concept for me and I have had such high hopes for this series that I bought all five books (so far) at one time. But it is telling that while I read the first three books in short order, it has been nearly two years since that time and my deciding to give book 4 a try.

I enjoyed the first book quite a bit but, unfortunately, each one since then has gone downhill. Perhaps it is because the concept was new and interesting in the beginning with a lot to explore, most especially the relationships between humans and dragons. But in subsequent novels the dragons have become characters so anthropomorphic that their dragon nature becomes somewhat secondary. We are left with an historical novel in the Napoleonic era that is much less fantastical and much more historical and so therefore must rise to that paradigm. The author seems more concerned with examining the plight of dragon's rights (think "human rights" for dragons) than in the more fantasy elements that this series is crying out for.

I must say that the historical aspects of these novels are obviously very well researched. The books are also well written in that they read like something Jane Austin would have written. In this volume, a deadly disease of some kind is wiping out the dragons and so Temeraire and Lawrence travel to South Africa to find a cure. Having recently been to South Africa I found these parts intriguing and I think Ms Novik captured the ambience there very well. But for me, my measure of interest in any novel can be measured by how much I'm glued to the page vs. how much time I catch my mind wandering off thinking about other things. My mind wandered off a lot during this one. So much so that if it were not for the cliffhanger ending I doubt I would ever pick up the fifth book. Even so, that might be difficult for me.

Fans of literary fantasy or fans of Napoleonic history may do better with this series than I have. Just don't expect a Patrick O'Brian meets "Dragonriders of Pern" novel.

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