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4.3 out of 5 stars34
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Black Powder War is the third novel in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, following the adventures of the eponymous dragon and his 'Captain', Lawrence, during the Napoleonic Wars of an alternative 19th Century where dragons are real and live, mostly, in harmony with mankind.

Along with the two books that proceed it, Temeraire (aka His Majesty's Dragon) and Throne of Jade, Black Powder War is the latest episode of an ongoing story. As such it is not the place for uninitiated readers to start. Go read Temeraire and Throne of Jade. Both are wonderful, evocative and exciting adventure novels bursting with great ideas.

For those already familiar with Temeraire and his adventures to date the question will be 'is Black Powder War as good as the books that proceeded it?'. The answer is....not quite.

Don't misunderstand me; this is still a wonderfully enjoyable book and deserving of four stars. What it doesn't do however, is quite measure up to its predecessors and this is due, mostly to issues of plotting.

With both previous Temeraire novels there was a sense of self-containment, even if they were just episodes in an onging saga. With Black Powder War by contrast, the episodic feeling is definitely to the fore and the book feels more like a transitionary tale rather than a self contained story. Mostly this is down to the story being split into very distinct halves; the first covering Temeraire's journey overland through Asia from China and the second his involvement with Napoleon's Eastern Campaign against the Prussians. Whilst both halves are related it is only loosely and they feel like two separate episodes rather than parts of a uniform whole.

The episodic feel continues through the narrative of the second half of the book, which is far busier this time, with multiple 'real life' battles & other events to contend with. Consequently it jumps around in an effort to keep events moving on at a pace. The transitionary nature of the book is then reinforced by an ending which, although unexpected and interesting, is very much open-ended.

All this results in a book that is less satisfying that either of Temeraire's earlier adventures. Its flaws aren't great enough however, to detract greatly from its strengths. As with the two previous books pimary amongst these is characterisation, with all of the principles from Temeraire, to Lawrence and on to the other members of his crew developing further as interesting individuals. Even the supporting cast, from Prussian Officers to members of the Turkish Sultan's Court to a bunch of fantastic feral mountain dragons are provided with depth so that they don't merely become dramatic devices there to service the plot.

A plot that as mentioned previously is far more complex than the previous efforts, especially in the latter half. Whilst the early stages dealing with the land crossing from China and an enforced stay in Turkey are relatively simple, linear affairs, once Temeraire and his crew cross into Austria and then head north towards Prussia things become far more complicated. Drawn back into the Napoleonic War, both Dragon and author must navigate the constantly shifting fortunes of war. For Temeraire and his crew this is difficult enough so far from home. For Novik it is a larger challenge. Whereas in previous novels she was free to invent her own narrative here she must craft fiction around real military events whilst keeping the reader's attention and understanding. That she does a credible job of both is a testament to her talent as a writer.

That she also manages to include new details of the world she has created amongst the constantly shifting narrative is also a great acheivement. This is another of the series strengths and she doesn't forget it, introducing new concepts such as feral dragons whilst making them seem utterly normal and conceiving further differences in cultural attitudes towards dragons for the Prussians and the Ottomans. It is such incidental details that gives all three books such a feeling of depth and grounds the reality that Novik has created.

It is also one of the many reasons why I am looking forward to the next episode of Temeraire and Lawrence's adventures. Whilst Black Powder War might feel like a bridging episode, moving the story along but not reaching any specific turning point, it hasn't lessened my enjoyment of the series as a whole. Whilst not as satisfying by itself as either of the earlier stories it has however, served its purpose by starting new interesting plot strands and further expanding the Draconian world. Roll on Autumn 07 when Temeraire will fly again.
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on 20 November 2008
From the very outset of this third book in the saga of Temeraire the dragon, I found myself distinctly unengaged by the material and far less engrossed by this story in comparison to the previous two. Consequently, the largely stellar reviews here surprise me more than a little...

Even if you're immediately aware and pleased by the fact that this series acts as one large story, and the individual books are only chapters in it (with much less identity as stand-alone novels than is customary for historical fantasy tales of this type) I still feel that `Black Powder War' is woefully slow to start. It has a pace that can only be described as meandering throughout and the lack of big set-pieces that have previously acted to offset Novik's minimal attempts at character exploration are only magnified by this story. The plot is non-existent; it's comprised of one errand that should only have taken a hundred pages at most for Novik to develop. It feels like very slim basis for a novel.

Something else that's difficult to avoid about Novik's style in this story is how poorly she lays the groundwork for climactic events. She rarely creates a feeling of real tension during various plot developments, because she doesn't set-up future events, which results in twists falling flat on the page when they occur. The few number of (relatively) significant incidents in the story feel as if they were designed purely to punctuate long periods of inactivity by Laurence, Temeraire and his crew, ones that have no lasting consequence. Even more so than in `Throne of Jade' (which saw the crew on a ship for a large portion of the story) in this third story it felt to me as if the author didn't know where her story was going, or had perhaps decided to reserve all the really big character and plot developments for some later point in this series. Plus, all these incidents can be attributed to one thing- Laurence's incredibly inept leadership.

So for me personally, while I continue to enjoy this series, `Black Powder War' is one long interlude with very little to distinguish it as a story in it's own right.
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on 8 January 2007
Oh my word...

When an author takes on history, it tends to be a battle of wills from the first.

A battle between the yearning for what could have been and the solid truths of what actually happened.

With a wealth of historical facts at Novik's fingertips, the author produces a richly developed character soup full of reason, treason, gunpowder plots and wings.

The rich tapestry of the Napoleonic Wars and it's possible intrigues are laid out before us with the inclusion of DRAGONS!

I feel if I had been able to read Novik's books during my cramming for history exams, that I may have found more interest in history and achieved a somewhat higher grade!
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on 2 April 2008
The third in the "Temeraire" series gives Captain Lawrence and Temeraire an uncertain new mission. In order to accomplish this they must travel from the orient into the deadly territories further west, into the depths of the European continent. Novik continues her alternate history thread to great effect, pulling the characters into darker waters with a guide they don't entirely trust.

As with the previous instalments, the writing is beautifully fluid and expertly constructed. Whatever niggles her narrative had at the start of her career have now been entirely ironed out, leaving the narrative and dialogue very smooth and easy to digest. This novel is not quite as fast-paced as the first two, and the excitement of the title and blurb is a little misleading. This is a much more sedate story but with fine character development and cleverly placed action sequences to keep the story going. Wonderfully paced, but not action-packed - still well worth a read if you enjoyed the earlier books.
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on 3 January 2007
Unlike the above poster, I don't think that the series was intended to be read as an alternative to our current history, but simply as a fantasy story of an alternative world, which happens to share our own history and have dragons.

Given that, I have found the series very enjoyable, and would reccomend to other fantasy/sci-fi fans. Despite being set in 'our' world, it still brings the same feeling of a different world to be immersed in, unlike some stories set in our world.
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on 24 April 2013
This uniquely distinctive series blends together history and sympathetic characters in such an engaging way, as to make the books highly readable and fun. I love how Naomi Novik includes within her novels characters with such heart and spirit, which ultimately add depth and substance to the exciting storyline. As Peter Jackson (director of the Lord of the Rings films) stated "...these are beautifully written novels" and I couldn't agree more.

`Black Powder War' is the third installment within Temeraire series, which comprises of Temeraire, Throne of Jade and Empire of Ivory. Action-packed and intense, this thrilling adventure will have you soaring through the highest cloud and crossing vast Oceans where great ships prepare for battle. As Captain Will Laurence is returning home from China with his crew he and his Dragon are given new orders ~ to fly home immediately. Temeraire and Will are also instructed to collect three precious Dragon eggs that were purchased by the British. Their epic journey across Sea's and vast continents is fraught with danger and political interference.

Utterly spellbinding, never before have I encountered a marvelous fantasy tale that blends together both exquisite historical details with an exciting pirate `feel', akin to Pirates of the Caribbean versus Bernard Cornwell. Naomi Novik writes like Robin Hobb or Stephen King; with such extensive knowledge of her creation and spectacular world-building. Assured and accomplished this impressive novel is highly believable, compelling and a thoroughly engaging read that takes your breath away - literally! This is also the kind of story which similarly to "The chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis", it appeals to all ages from the younger reader to the adult reader.

5 Stars!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 January 2012
In this third of the series, we follow Laurence and the wonderful Temeraire through three stages of their adventures: their overland journey back from China which becomes diverted via Turkey; their enforced stay in the Sultan's palace in Istanbul; and their participation in the Prussian wars against Napoleon.

Parts of this book are a trifle slow if you're looking just for fast-paced adventure, but the last part more than makes up for that as Temeraire is thrust back into battle. I really liked the earlier parts, however, as we see Temeraire and Laurence under strain. The impact of China hasn't left either of them and Temeraire's innocent intentions of emancipating dragons is a nice sub-text to the main plot.

I love this series, and really enjoyed this instalment, especially the addition of new dragon characters to Temeraire's circle. I find these books acutely addictive so you might well want to have the next one (Empire of Ivory) handy for the moment you finish this.
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on 23 October 2010
I did enjoy the previous Temeraire books but felt this one was disappointing. There was very little action throughout and I found the battles quite dull - ie Temeraire helps them out with formations but you are not informed what he actually tells them to do.
I'm unsure if I will read any others in this series - maybe if I can find them in a library but doubt I will buy any more and will probably sell the ones I have as I don't think I would every read them again.
I am sure people will think this a well written classical style novel but there really isn't anything different or exciting going on. Anne McCaffrey may not be an esteemed writer but she is much more entertaining - read her dragon novels instead.
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on 7 November 2009
I love these books, they're amazing fun to read and Naomi Novik has a wonderful eye for characters and relationships. The plot pacing of this book is better than the previous two which tried to condense too much plot in the last two chapters, this one spreads it out a little bit more although it still accelerates up to a bit of a dash. This book is criminally badly edited though, with dozens of jarring errors that force you to reread and try to decode sentences. There are a few dodgy plot and character moments that don't quite ring true, but for the most part this is a wonderful series to read and I can't wait for the next one.
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on 17 August 2010
A mishap aboard the dragon transporter leads to an overland foray across the desert (i.e. oases, camels) into the Ottoman Empire to collect some valuable dragon eggs. Novik again resorts to stereotypes (to the point of caricature): the gold-hungry untrustworthy Turkish Sultanate and pedantic German Prussians with inflexible formation flying. A summary of the book would be: Trek across desert, attacked by baddies on horseback, Temeraire saves the day. Captured and imprisioned by greedy Sultan, plucky British raid on harem, Temeraire saves the day. Join beleaguered Prussian troops, attacked by French, Will & Temeraire correct Prussian aerial tactics. Meanwhile, Temeraire is proselytising draconic rights to various European dragons in a thinly disguised anti-slavery lecture.

In a formulaic 350 pages, a region of the world is reduced to a set of stereotypes while draconic rights becomes a slavery metaphor. After a promising first book, the subsequent volumes read like a standard quest story that reads like a dungeons/dragons game. Had this been written in the 1980s it would probably have been picked up by someone like TSR and aimed at young adult role play gamers.

Lightweight books for an undemanding audience. Stereotyped and superficial.
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