Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Black Powder War by Naomi Novik

Will Laurence and Temeraire are quite eager to be on their way home from China, but their ship catches fire near Macao, and they are forced to remain there far longer than they really want to, until a message arrives by courier from England ordering Laurence to proceed to Istanbul to take possession of three dragon eggs purchased by the British from the Turks. As the ship cannot sail immediately, they decide to go overland, and hire a guide - the same man who delivered the message - to show them the way to cross the land mass of Asia.

The first half of the book reads a bit like a Marco Polo travelogue of exotic lands and people, as they travel with a train of camels, both to carry water and to feed Temeraire when necessary. Along the way, they encounter a clutch of semi-feral dragons who live in the mountains, and Temeraire's stories of civilization tempt them into accompanying the adventurers. When they finally arrive in Istanbul, it turns out that the payment for the dragons eggs has been stolen, the British ambassador has disappeared, and Laurence and his crew are "guests" of the Turkish rulers for far longer than they had hoped. They are forced to steal the eggs, finally (they learn that the Turks really had received the gold, after all), and flee the city and area.

They end up in the middle of Napoleon's invasion of Germany, Austria and Prussia, and try to help the German armies to defeat the emperor. But things go badly, and the French overrun part of Russia, as well, and Laurence and Temeraire are trapped behind enemy lines, while the time for the eggs' hatching approaches far too quickly.

This one is a bit depressing...I guess the Napoleonic Wars were, too, weren't they? Except for the French, perhaps.

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