Empire of Ivory (Book 4 of Temeraire) by Naomi Novik

See? I just said a little different, didn’t I? There were dragons in Guards! Guards! and there are lots of dragons in the Temeraire books.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of the Temeraire books, it’s basically the Napoleonic Wars with dragons. Needless to say, it’s awesome. Dragons are used like sentient ships, basically, bringing the battles to the air about a century earlier than in reality. The stories center on Captain Will Laurence who is unwillingly (at first) drafted into the Dragon Corps when his ship captures a French ship which is carrying a dragon egg. Upon hatching, it (Temeraire) bonds with Laurence and, well, the rest is history. Except that it turns out that Temeraire is a very rare Celestial – a Chinese breed which is only meant for emperors and was intended as a gift from the Chinese to Napoleon.

This book (the fourth in the series) picks up right where the last one left off. Seriously, it picks up again finishing up the last scene from the previous book, while Temeraire and the group of feral dragons they’ve picked up on their latest journey are bringing Prussian soldiers back to England while under attack from a group of French dragons and their crews. Basically, a plague is, well, plaguing the English dragons, diminishing their numbers (which they are trying to hide from the French) and Temeraire and Laurence must find the cure.

Turns out, Temeraire had a bout with a similar illness which was unintentionally cured during a stopover in Africa, so Temeraire, Laurence, and their squadron of sick dragons with their crews head off to Africa in search of the cure.

There are even more political manueverings in this one (which is saying a lot, trust me) than in the previous two books (there were some in the first, fair enough, but it was mostly about Laurence and Temeraire) which sometimes slows (and confuses) the plot a bit. It’s still good and the dragons are fun to read about.

I think the main problem with this book is that there isn’t enough of Laurence and Temeraire – my favorite parts are reading about their interactions and their relationship with one another. And the other dragons (although, my second-favorite (after Temeraire, of course), Volly does make an appearance) seem to be given a bit of short-shrift, too. Basically, it was a lot of political goings-on in this one. But.

In true Novik fashion, she has set up a very interesting premise for the next book in the series (due out sometime in 2008) which may be the reason for my main problem with the book. Knowing the ending now, it seems like the entire book is just a big set-up for the next one. Which I am greatly looking forward to. Hopefully there’ll be more of Laurence and Temeraire in that one.

So despite the fact that I think this is probably the weakest of the four books, it’s worth the read just to be back in the universe Novik has created and it’s a promising set-up for the next one. I highly recommend the series overall. I think Entertainment Weekly put it best – this series is for ‘anyone who’s read one of Patrick O’Brien’s 19th-century-set naval adventures and mused: You know what would make this better? Dragons.

My rating: B