After some pretty negative reviews, I put off reading the 6th novel in Naomi Novik's 'Temeraire' series, despite having enjoyed the previous five to varying degrees. However, with the publication of the 7th volume, Crucible of Gold (Temeraire (Unnumbered Hardcover))
, which was greeted by some far more positive notices, I felt it was time to catch up. Besides, I thought inwardly before purchasing it, surely Tongues of Serpents can't be as bad as some of the reviews make out.
And it isn't as bad as the worst reviews claim, but nor is it more than just 'Okay'. As many of the other reviews state, Tongues of Serpents suffers from being, frankly, a rather dull book. A slow start segues into a lengthy middle-section that is, as another reviewer points out, one long interminable journey punctuated by dragons arguing with one another. When that journey finally ends it does so with an anti-climactic discovery, a brief burst of action and then the book sort of drifts to an end. At no point did anything on the page generate a real sense of excitement.
At times it almost seemed as if Naomi Novik's skills as a writer had deserted her. It might have been my imagination, but the both the descriptive prose and the dialogue in Tongues of Serpents felt leaden and at times almost garbled. Some of the sentence structures in the book's opening passages were quite frankly baffling and on several occasions I found myself rereading paragraphs to try and make sense of what was being said.
Equally her talents at crafting a compelling narrative also seemed to have gone missing. Not only was the story dull and unengaging; when she did try to liven things up her efforts fell flat. At one point, for example, Temeraire and his companions find themselves threatened by an unseen enemy that is by turns stealthy and deadly. This should have generated as palpable sense of danger and fear, as individuals first go missing inexplicably and then the danger is revealed, but the way the author handles it there is little or no tension generated. Even a passage when Temeraire himself trapped and in direct danger never really takes off.
Other reviewers have put forward various theories as to why the series has suffered such a dip in form with Tongues of Serpents. Personally I think that Naomi Novik, having placed Temeraire and Laurence in Australia, found herself in a narrative cul de sac and didn't really know what to do once she was in there. The result is this hugely underwhelming book.
All I can hope is that, with the precis of the plot of Crucible of Gold suggesting that it will see Temeraire and Laurence leave Oz and rejoin the war effort, the next book provides more action and with it sees the series get back on track after this major hiccup.