Sunday, March 11, 2012

Crucible of Gold (Naomi Novik)

Crucible of Gold
(The Temeraire series, Book 7)
Naomi Novik
Del Rey
Fiction, Fantasy
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: From the sea to the skies, from national hero to exiled traitor, from England to the prison colony of Australia... how could Will Laurence have guessed at his changing fortunes, when the HMS Reliant captured the French vessel with Temeraire's egg? But those days are behind him, the war against Napoleon a dim rumble far beyond the horizon. Stripped of rank by a hidebound government, the former captain and the Celestial dragon have found peace farming an isolated valley, content to forget and be forgotten. Then, with the arrival of an unwelcome visitor, the world once more comes crashing upon their doorstep.
Arthur Hammond, a tactless man but an effective diplomat, who once was willing to trade away Temeraire in order to secure goodwill with China, brings with him an offer of reinstatement in the British Aerial Corps, with full seniority restored. While Temeraire delights in the news, Laurence knows the government would never relent unless they needed something. Indeed, they do. Napoleon has enlisted the aid of the Tswana, the dragon-ruled African empire, to harry the Portuguese colony of Brazil, turning the angered nation loose upon the slave-owners who for so long plundered their tribespeople. Having spent time among the Tswana - as captives, mostly - the British hope that Laurence and Temeraire can help the struggling colony and curry favor with Portugal... and maybe even sway the African dragons to the British cause against France. A laughable notion, given Britain's continued support of the very slave trade that angered the Tswana into violence, but Laurence can hardly refuse the attempt. Too many good people saw their lives destroyed when he and Temeraire were branded agitators and traitors; maybe this mission, doomed as it seems, could help make amends.
Thus begins a perilous journey halfway around the globe, beset by storms, mutiny, and traitors.

REVIEW: Another exciting adventure in Temeraire's fascinating alternate-history world, this book wisely ties the action back into the greater world theater. Temeraire, ever the optimist, returns to active duty convinced that he's finally making headway against the British government; Laurence, far less sanguine about the situation, remains determined to never let himself sacrifice personal honor for his fickle nation's pride again. Matters of national honor take a back seat for a good chunk of the book, as the journey itself takes up more than half of the pagecount. In this respect, Crucible of Gold feels faintly reminiscent of Tongues of Serpents (Book 6), in that I sometimes wondered if Novik was stalling for pagecount with each new crisis sprung upon the travelers. Temeraire and his much-reduced crew finally visit the Incan Empire, whose aloof existence was teased in earlier volumes. Novik once again establishes a nation whose relationships with dragons have determined their survival, giving Temeraire a whole new perspective on his own responsibilities to his human companions. By the time they reach Brazil, the Tswana and Hammond's hopes to appease the Portuguese almost feel like afterthoughts. Naturally, all signs point to an eighth volume in the works, as the global theater of war tilts even further against a British victory.
With several significant personal and international developments, Crucible of Gold moves Temeraire's tale out of the backwaters and back into the forefront of a world at war... just where he belongs. I look forward to the next installment, and however many more Novik decides to write.

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