Review of EMPIRE OF IVORY by Naomi Novik (see her website)
Del Rey, September 2007
Britain, fighting an overmatched war against Napoleon, now suffers from a plague that keeps the dragons grounded and is gradually killing them off. French victory seems certain unless a cure can be found. When Temeraire proves to be immune, his captain, Laurence, realizes that Temeraire might have found the cure during his journey around Africa. Temeraire and his wing are dispatched to Capetown in hopes that somehow Temeraire will be able to remember what he ate that cured him--and share this with the other dragons.
Africa in the early 19th century is torn apart by the slave trade and by European colonization. European incursions into the interior of this vast continent frequently vanish. Still, aided by his dragon, Laurence doesn't have any special fears. After all, a dragon who mounts a crew of over 100 is not likely to be disturbed by a few spear-wielding native warriors. Neither Laurence, nor any other European, is prepared for what they face when the African continent finally explodes.
Author Naomi Novik (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Novik) is in excellent form with EMPIRE OF IVORY. The relationship between Laurence and Temeraire continues to evolve, with Temeraire raising Laurence's consciousness about the unfairness of how both dragons and slaves are treated while Laurence has brought his strong sense of honor to the dragon. Novik digs more deeply into how the presence of dragons has changed history--with the major new world civilizations having apparently fought off European invasion.
The slave trade of the 19th century is not romantic--it's horrible, a black mark against humanity. For this reason, perhaps, many authors writing books set in this period simply ignore the entire institution. To her credit, Novik confronts it head-on, and develops an intriguing twist on history in doing so.
EMPIRE OF IVORY concludes with Temeraire and Laurence being faced with a horrible choice--one that appears certain to lead to dishonor on the one hand, or death on the other. I'm pleased to see that the next volume in this fine series will be out later in 2008--I can't wait.
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