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review 2017-06-25 21:05
Review: Empire of Ivory (Temeraire Book 4 of 9)
Empire of Ivory - Naomi Novik

Going just by the story, the characters, and my general entertainment throughout most of this book, I would have rated this at five stars.  I’m giving it 4.5 stars, the same as the last two books, but I’m rounding down to 4 on Goodreads whereas I rounded the previous two up to 5.  The reason I'm rating it so much lower, in spite of enjoying it so much, is that there were a couple things that particularly annoyed me, one being what I consider to be a major story discrepancy.  More details are in the spoiler tags further below.

 

Aside from that, I thought the story was very entertaining.  I enjoyed it at least as much as the first book, and slightly more than the second and third.  I was especially engrossed by the end, and I’m eager to start reading the next book.  Unlike the previous books, this one ended with quite a cliff hanger and I look forward to finding out how Laurence and Temeraire will get themselves out of their current predicament.

 

The rest of my comments include some spoilers for this book and also for the previous three, so I’ll put them in spoiler tags:

 

The discrepancy that bothered me so much was the way everybody completely ignored Temeraire’s history with the disease.  Early on, when Laurence first learns that all the dragons are sick, he comments that they’d “had word” of the illness.  This was true enough, I guess.  In book two, when the courier dragon Volly landed on their ship to deliver messages, Volly was sick and his captain James said “half the dragons are moaning and sniffling about”.  So, yes, they “had word”.  They also had a nice little exchange of dragon germs.

 

Temeraire caught that same illness, about a week after Volly had left.  In this fourth book, at around 28%, there’s finally a mention of Temeraire’s own illness, but everybody still seems to doubt the connection.  Nobody mentions that Temeraire caught it after being exposed to one of the sick dragons.  The connection seems like it should have been obvious, if only to Laurence and the dragon surgeon Keynes who had been with them.  It seemed to me like Novik cheated, trying to drag things out for dramatic effect at the sacrifice of logic and consistency.

 

A more minor thing that niggled at me was the misrepresentation of where Laurence’s wealth came from.  Novik really downplayed how much of it came from his capture of Temeraire’s egg and the subsequent harnessing.  We’re told that the Admiralty pays little for the capture of a dragon compared to that of a ship, and that “Laurence had established a handsome capital while still a naval officer.”  These things are technically true, but presented in a misleading way.  Laurence didn’t capture a dragon, he captured an egg, and most of his wealth came from that bounty rather than from the capture of the ship itself, which admittedly happened while he was “still a naval officer”. 

 

Along those same lines, Temeraire also mentions in this book that Laurence bought his breastplate with the money he earned from taking the French ship, but he knows the money came from his egg.  In book one Laurence told him, after presenting the gift to him, that “it is quite your due, you know, for the better part of it comes from the bounty for our having taken your egg from the French.”  So again, everything stated is technically true, because the egg came from the ship, but presented in a way that seems intentionally misleading.  Maybe Novik was afraid reminding readers of that aspect of things would take away from the anti-slavery message in this book, or maybe I just read too much into it, but it seems odd that she would remind readers of some aspects of Laurence’s capital but avoid mentioning the most relevant aspect at the same time.

(spoiler show)

 

 

Next Book

Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik, the fifth book in the Temeraire series.

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review 2017-06-18 13:04
Review: Black Powder War (Temeraire Book 3 of 9)
Black Powder War - Naomi Novik

Black Powder War is the third book in the Temeraire series.  I enjoyed this one at about the same level as the previous two books. I was particularly happy when the story didn’t quite go in the direction I had expected it to based on the end of the last book, as described in more detail in the below spoiler.

 

I had expected them to go straight back home and to see Temeraire start arguing for dragons to have more rights and freedoms, which I wasn’t sure would be that entertaining of a story to me.  I expect that’s still coming, but I wasn’t disappointed that it didn’t come in this book.  I might also have let out a small groan when the book began and I realized they were still in China, because I’d been expecting the journey home to take place “off page” and I thought, “Oh no, we’re going to have to do another trip by sea.”  It was entertaining enough the first time because interesting things kept happening, but I didn’t particularly want to do it again.  I was therefore very happy with the unexpected happenings at the beginning of the book that led to them taking a different route with many detours.

(spoiler show)

 

I continue to enjoy the characters, and there were a couple new characters in this book that I enjoyed and hope to see again.  I have a comment about them in spoiler tags below which really isn’t a spoiler in itself, but I mention their names since my comment is about their names.  That, combined with my earlier sentence, makes it obvious they’re still alive at the end of the book.  With so many people I know reading this series, I want to be extra cautious.

 

I really enjoyed Tharkay, and Arkady too, but I had a terrible time keeping their names straight.  The characters themselves were memorable and distinctive; it was just their names I had trouble with.  Since one was a human and the other a dragon, it was impossible to be confused for long, but it did make for the occasional hilarious misinterpretation when a character seemed to do something totally bizarre and I realized I was picturing the wrong character.

(spoiler show)

 

I did enjoy this quite a bit and I still look forward to continuing the series.  There were a couple of times, maybe, when things started to feel a little sluggish, but it never lasted long before something happened to catch my interest again.  I also thought the ending was more satisfying than in the previous book.  I could find a thing or two to nit-pick about, but it felt like it flowed more naturally out of the events of the story and it was also entertaining.

 

Next Book

(Since late last year, I’ve been including this section in my reading journal thread on LibraryThing at the bottom of each new review I post.  Usually it isn’t this long; often it’s just a sentence stating which book I plan to read next.  I originally started including it on LT because people following my reading journal won’t see a notification about the next book I add to my shelf, unlike here on BL and on Goodreads, and that’s something I personally enjoy seeing from people I follow.  I’ve found that this section often generates some discussion on LT, which is impossible here on BL since you can’t comment on people’s shelving updates.  Also, sometimes I have more to say like I do today, but I feel funny about putting up a separate post for something that will be of little interest to most people so I just leave it off altogether when I post here.  For those reasons, I’ve decided to start including this section here on BL too.)

 

Zodiac by Neal Stephenson.  I’ve heard a lot about this author, and I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews about his various books, but this will be my first time reading anything by him.  I’ve been trying to get around to him for quite a while.

 

I've been planning for a while to read this book now, after the third Temeraire book, and I have another standalone planned for after the sixth book also, to break things up a bit.  I started to waver on this plan when I realized this book would probably fall during my upcoming business trip.  Temeraire might be a safer bet for keeping me entertained during the flights, since I already know I enjoy it.  I decided to stick with my original plan, mostly because my flight schedule this week is ridiculous.  If my book happens to put me to sleep, when I don’t normally sleep well on planes to begin with, that will only be to my advantage because I’ll need the sleep.

 

Speaking of travel, I’ll likely be reading more slowly and posting less over the next month or two.  I have the trip this coming week, then I’m up for the on-call rotation the week after.  It falls on quarter end which is always a little chaotic, so I’ll likely be working a lot during the evenings also.  Then I’ll be traveling a minimum of two weeks in July to support a project.  I expect I’ll still be around reading what other people are posting, and posting the occasional review myself, but I’ll probably be even quieter than usual -- and probably even less coherent because I’m going to be tired. :)

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review 2017-06-14 23:53
Review: Throne of Jade (Temeraire Book 2 of 9)
Throne of Jade - Naomi Novik

This is the second book in the Temeraire series.  The first book in a series has an advantage, at least in my case.  If it’s written well, and especially if it takes a different approach than anything I’ve read before, its “newness factor” gives it an edge.  The second book is a better test of whether I’ll be able to sustain my interest in the series. 

 

I really enjoyed this book.  I’m especially still enjoying the characters.  Also, something about Novik’s writing style just holds my interest well.  I haven’t found this series to be particularly “twisty” or surprising so far, but I still get wrapped up in the story even when I’m not on the edge of my seat wondering what will happen next. 

 

This book has some similarities, structure-wise, with the first book.  It tells a complete story, with the main problems wrapped up by the end.  Also, just like in the first book, we’re given a big hint about what direction the larger story will take in the next book.  Another similarity is that the second half is quite a bit more action-heavy than the first half, and I enjoyed both halves.

 

I did think the ending was too abrupt.  As I approached the end, I decided the problems at hand would surely be carried over to the next book because it didn’t seem like there was enough time left to resolve them.  Instead, everything was wrapped up really fast.  The earlier parts of the book covered events in far more detail, so I think that made the fast ending seem more jarring.  I liked the way things ended, I just wish it had been drawn out a little more, with some more details and events to help me buy into it better.  Some major spoilers to try to explain my issues are below within the spoiler tags.

 

 

One minute Laurence and Hammond were speculating that Yongxing might be behind the attacks, after they realized who the young boy was.  The next minute Laurence was attacked again and Temeraire immediately went after Yongxing based on the pure speculation he had just overhead.  Then the next minute Yongxing is dead, some time passes "off page", and we find out their speculations were correct.  Then everything is wrapped up to everybody’s satisfaction.  (Well, except Yongxing’s dragon, of course, who I felt rather bad for.)  Even though the speculation about Yongxing’s guilt made sense, and even though Temeraire’s outraged reaction based on minimal information fit his character, it just seemed a little too convenient somehow that, after all the problems and confusion, suddenly everything just fell into place.

(spoiler show)

 

 

In summary, I enjoyed it a lot, but maybe a tiny bit less than the first book.  I’m headed straight into the third book. :)

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review 2017-06-10 04:45
Review: Feast or Famine (Temeraire Book 1.5 of 9)
Feast or Famine - Naomi Novik

This was a light-hearted and fun short story that the author says takes place between books 1 and 2 of the Temeraire series.  Temeraire and Maximus want breakfast, but the people who feed them haven’t come to work yet and they don’t want to wake up their tired crews so they try to get it themselves.  Minor chaos ensues.

 

I doubt this would be very entertaining if one isn’t already familiar with the characters, but I enjoyed it.  It can be read for free here.

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review 2017-06-10 04:00
Review: His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire Book 1 of 9)
His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire) - Naomi Novik

Until early last year when I read and loved Uprooted, also written by Novik, I’d only been mildly interested in reading this series.  The synopsis didn’t sound all that interesting to me, and I’d seen mixed reviews for it on my feed.  Even after enjoying Uprooted so much, I wasn’t sure if that would have much bearing on things since this series was written many years earlier and has a completely different type of story.  I enjoyed this book far more than I had expected or hoped.  It caught my interest in the very beginning and held it straight through to the end. 

 

The story is set in an alternate version of our Napoleonic Wars, where dragons are used in battle, told from the perspective of characters on the British side.  That premise didn’t sound very interesting to me, but Novik writes characters and camaraderie very well and she also writes action scenes well.  Contrary to my fears, the book was much more than just a string of battles.  In fact, the bulk of the action doesn’t really start until over halfway through.  The first half is more about setting the stage, introducing the reader to the characters and to how things work.  I enjoyed both halves equally.  This book doesn’t really have any sort of cliff hanger at all.  It would work perfectly well as a standalone, but I definitely plan to head straight into the next book. 

 

The story centers around two characters, the human Laurence and his dragon Temeraire.  Laurence is a captain in the British Navy and has never remotely considered joining the Aerial Corps as a dragon handler, but his life takes a surprising turn at the beginning of the book.  Conveniently, we get to learn about how everything works through his inexperienced eyes, and I really enjoyed that part.  Laurence and Temeraire are both great characters, and I also liked several of the secondary characters although we didn’t get to know them quite as well.  Laurence is a bit stiff and duty-bound, but I really liked him and found him easy to root for.  He usually made rational decisions, and he tried to do things for the right reasons.

 

The language that Novik used worked well for me also.  Keeping in mind that I am not remotely an expert on the classics, nor a history buff, the language in the book seemed to have enough archaic terms and phrasings to feel authentic to me, and I didn’t notice any major anachronisms.  If I have one complaint, and it’s really a minor one, it would be that the book really doesn’t give much of a view of life outside of the military environment.  It also would have been interesting to see things from the perspective of other countries.  I’m not sure how that really would have fit into this story though, and it was entertaining as it was.  Maybe some of the later books will expand the setting a little bit. 

 

There seem to be a lot of people I’m following who are reading this series right now.  To those people, I apologize in advance because I’m going to ignore any future posts about the series while I’m reading it, unless the post is for one of the books I’ve already read.  Once I’m familiar with the characters and setting of a series, I find it much too easy to extrapolate future events based on even vague comments, so I plan to play it safe.  As usual, I’ll be going back to read reviews from people I follow after I finish each book, even the reviews I’ve already seen previously.

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