Empire of Ivory

So, I picked up this one — the latest in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik — about a month ago at the library. Hubby scooped it up, excited, and dove in. Three and a half weeks later, he gave it back with the summation: “Lousy story, good ending.”

I needed something different to read after being in YA-land for Estella’s Revenge last week, and I picked this one up on Friday. I stopped on page 81, turned to Hubby and asked for a summary of events, so I could just skip to the ending. (The due date is looming, anyway.) Here’s what I missed (to save you 330 pages of reading):

When Laurence and Temeraire finally get back from their adventures to China and the continent, they find the English dragons in a terrible state. They are all wasting away from this mysterious disease. Sick and miserable, they can hardly defend the country. After a series of events, Temeraire and Laurence discover that the cure to this sickness is some rare mushroom only found in Africa. So, Laurence and Temeraire are sent to Cape Town to go into the depths of Africa to find more of the mushrooms. They get there, get captured by the elusive Empire of Ivory, where dragons are considered to be reincarnations of previous clan chiefs. Somehow (probably mildly interesting) they escape with the mushrooms and the Empire dragons hot on their tale. The Empire wrecks havoc on the colonial towns of Africa (I think it was because they thought Temeraire and Laurence were there to capture slaves), and somehow Laurence and Temeraire get back alive and in one piece.

So. Now you can start the book on page 330, Chapter 14, where things get interesting. Hubby did say that there was an interesting sub-plot with Harcourt (she’s a female dragon rider from the first book) getting pregnant by Laurence’s Navy friend Riley. But that’s only if you want to slog through the middle chapters.

But, the ending — which I did read — was exciting. Laurence comes back to find that the Admiralty sent an infected dragon to France to wipe out their dragons. Laurence and Temeraire are sickened at this, and commit treason by stealing the mushrooms and delivering them to France. There’s a great escape scene, and what happens to Laurence at the end is very interesting.

Which makes me think about Novik as a writer. She doesn’t do the whole adventure to other lands thing very well. I understand it’s interesting exploring other dragon cultures — the whole idea that different cultures would treat their dragons differently is a compelling one — but she just doesn’t do it all that well. The books are best when she’s writing about the war — the fighting, the flying, the escapes — and Temeraire and Laurence’s part in it. Dragon culture and emancipation is all fine, but give me a good fight scene. It’s really all I want out of these books.

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