Given the fact that after reading Victory of Eagles I felt that the series appeared to be losing a little steam, I was curious to see if this sixth installment in the Temeraire series would be a return to form. The books are becoming formulaic and episodic in style and tone, and I for one was hoping for a throwback to the first four volumes.
And though my expectations were not that high based on its predecessor, it saddens me to report that Tongues of Serpents was a lackluster effort leaving a lot to be desired. After revitalizing the genre with such originality, Naomi Novik's latest work does very little to further the plot of the main story arc.
Here's the blurb:
A dazzling blend of military history, high-flying fantasy, and edge-of-your-seat adventure, Naomi Novik's Temeraire novels, set in an alternate Napoleonic era in which intelligent dragons have been harnessed as weapons of war, are more than just perennial bestsellers--they are a worldwide phenomenon. Now, in Tongues of Serpents, Naomi Novik is back, along with the dragon Temeraire and his rider and friend, Capt. Will Laurence.
Convicted of treason despite their heroic defense against Napoleon's invasion of England, Temeraire and Laurence--stripped of rank and standing--have been transported to the prison colony at New South Wales in distant Australia, where, it is hoped, they cannot further corrupt the British Aerial Corps with their dangerous notions of liberty for dragons. Temeraire and Laurence carry with them three dragon eggs intended to help establish a covert in the colony and destined to be handed over to such second-rate, undesirable officers as have been willing to accept so remote an assignment--including one former acquaintance, Captain Rankin, whose cruelty once cost a dragon its life.
Nor is this the greatest difficulty that confronts the exiled dragon and rider: Instead of leaving behind all the political entanglements and corruptions of the war, Laurence and Temeraire have instead sailed into a hornet's nest of fresh complications. For the colony at New South Wales has been thrown into turmoil after the overthrow of the military governor, one William Bligh--better known as Captain Bligh, late of HMS Bounty. Bligh wastes no time in attempting to enlist Temeraire and Laurence to restore him to office, while the upstart masters of the colony are equally determined that the new arrivals should not upset a balance of power precariously tipped in their favor.
Eager to escape this political quagmire, Laurence and Temeraire take on a mission to find a way through the forbidding Blue Mountains and into the interior of Australia. But when one of the dragon eggs is stolen from Temeraire, the surveying expedition becomes a desperate race to recover it in time--a race that leads to a shocking discovery and a dangerous new obstacle in the global war between Britain and Napoleon.
The principal problem with Tongues of Serpents is that there was evidently not enough material to fill an entire novel. And though the book weighs in at a scrawny 288 pages, nearly a third of it is just filler material that adds nothing to the story. I feel that both Victory of Eagles and Tongues of Serpent could have been combined into a single work. As seperate entities, they are by far the least impressive books in the series, though the former has a lot more to offer.
With an unmistable historian's eye for details, Novik's depiction of Australia made for an evocative narrative. Unfortunately, the better part of the novel is an uninspired travelogue chronicling Laurence and Temeraire's journey across the country. In the past, I've always loved the author's depiction of the various locales the characters visited. Yet discoveries and revelations kept the plot moving, enticing you to keep on reading and find out what happens next. Paper-thin plotlines preclude the same sort of satisfying reading experience with Tongues of Serpents. Sure, a number of secrets are revealed, but somehow it all feels like some kind of interlude, with the story to be continued in forthcoming books.
I don't know if it's because the short story "Seven Years from Home" in the Warriors anthology showed us Naomi Novik's grittier side, but this time around I couldn't really get into the heretofore engaging relationship between Temeraire and Laurence. The cuteness even became annoying at times. The only truly interesting character was Tharkay.
I've heard that the next volume will be the first installment of a three-book cycle that should bring the series to a close. Let's hope that it's the case, for the proliferation of sequels whose pertinence seems questionable is something I can't abide. There are more than enough existing storylines to build on to bring back what made the Temeraire books so fun and entertaining. Quite a lot seems to be occurring "off stage" in this book, so let's hope that future Temeraire novels will recapture that little something that made us fall in love with the series in the first place.
Should you buy it in hardcover? To be honest, what little you get out of Tongues of Serpents just isn't worth $ in hardcover. I would suggest to wait for the paperback edition. . .
Considering the quality of its predecessors, Tongues of Serpents fails miserably to live up to expectations. All in all, a disappointment. This coming from a reader who's been a fan of the series from the very start. . .