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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Tongues of Serpents: A Novel of Temeraire » User review

An interlude down under for the dragon Temeraire and his captain, now exiled for treasonous acts of conscience

  • Jul 24, 2010
The dragon Temeraire and his captain Laurence have been sent to the prison colony of Australia, as consequence for a treacherous act of kindness. They could not, in good conscience, allow the British to engage in biological warfare, and so shared with the French the cure they had found for a communicable disease that was decimating their dragons.

Now, however, they are stuck down under, where supplies are low and the native game (Kangaroo and the like) a poor substitute for sheep and cattle. What's worse, the deposed local governor begs their assistance in restoring him to power; and an old enemy arrives from England to claim one of the eggs they had brought with them to set up a local covert. Unwilling to get in the way of a British appointment, but unable to see that the mutinous locals acted entirely unjustly against an obviously inept and likely corrupt governor, Lawrence and friends decide to pursue a different mission into the outback, where they face innumerable hardships and make a few intiguing discoveries.

For fans of the series, this will be essential reading, as another episode in the exciting adventures of the dutiful but headstrong Laurence and the wise but impulsive dragon Temeraire. The series as a whole provides an alternate history of the Napoleonic wars as if there were intelligent dragons who could be enlisted to form an aerial corps, and were large enough to carry a fighting crew. Laurence himself was a sea captain who unwittingly found himself harnessed as captain to an intelligent dragon. One of the more intiguing aspects of the series is that it provides a new look at salient aspects of colonial history - slavery, trade, class, war, property, propriety - from the perspective of an intelligent species who doesn't share British prejudices. The series develops as Lawrence, who had deeply felt intuitions about duty and honor and loyalty, comes to reconsider his loyalties and develop a broader view as a result of his interactions with the dragon he cares about deeply.

Along the way, throughout the series, Novik has aimed to explore the extent of the influence of the British empire and its allies and enemies. There are volumes set in China and Europe and Africa, and now with a volume set in Australia all that remains is for the focus to move to the Americas. I found this volume, though, less intriguing than the others. In part this is because Australia is depicted as such a wasteland. There is hardly any interaction with the Indigenous tribes, and so much of the trek across the outback focuses on interactions among the men and the officers and exploring the uneasy position of Lawrence, now that he is no longer an officer but is more than an average man given his connection with a powerful dragon and his still obvious capacity as leader. One thing that disappointed me was that there seemed to be very little development in either Lawrence or, especially, Temeraire. In fact, what has been most engaging to me about the series was the development of Temeraire's intelligence and understanding of the world around him. Here, though, he doesn't seem much to develop. He is still puzzled by things we should find more puzzling - such as why one sovereign nation should have the right to regulate the trade of another nation. On the whole, though, he seems more petty and preening and jealous in this book than ever before. This is a nice break from the endless battling that has occupied the past few books, but it was disappointing that in a real sense nothing much happens here. I'll keep reading the series, but look forward to new developments. I'd like to think of this as a transition novel, a catching breath and paving way for something bigger, ... at least I hope that's what we can expect from the next one.

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July 29, 2010
Your review makes me want to begin this series of books! Another great series set during the Napoleonic Wars, and one in which Australia plays a key role as a dumping ground for prisoners, is the Master and Commander series.
July 29, 2010
The apparent similarity is no coincidence. Naomi Novik has said that the Master and Commander series is her primary influence. The difference is the dragons, and it makes no small difference.
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Nathan Andersen ()
Ranked #68
I teach philosophy at Eckerd College, in Saint Petersburg, Florida.      I run an award-winning International Cinema series in Tampa Bay (www.eckerd.edu/ic), and am co-director of … more
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The somber sixth installment (after 2008's Victory of Eagles) of the Napoleonic era adventures of Capt. Will Laurence and Chinese-British dragon Temeraire opens with the pair exiled to New South Wales for saving French dragons from a plague while England and France were at war. The government of the colony is hotly disputed, and both the deposed royal governor and the insurrectionists hope to ally with Laurence and his draconic companions. When a dragon egg is kidnapped, an expedition over the Blue Mountains turns into a frantic hunt for the culprits. Novik fans will be glad to see their old favorite characters growing and changing yet still very much themselves, but the lack of significant interaction with native Australian humans or dragons leaves a certain emptiness at the heart of the story, exacerbated by long stretches of travel through physical and emotional desolation.
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ISBN-10: 0345496892
ISBN-13: 978-0345496898
Author: Naomi Novik
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Del Rey
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