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An insubstantial interlude
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.