A quiet adventure that showcases the
characters while on another journey, discovering a strange land, to a
satisfying conclusion. The best part was the dialog between the dragons,
especially the sarcastic Caesar, which livened up a journey that could
have been quite dull. The author's style either makes or breaks the
book, and for much of it, I enjoyed the extra-long sentences, as it made
me think of a script written long ago, in a romantic tradition. Since
the book takes place during the time of Napoleon, I think the
legend-like style is appropriate.
I skipped the last two books in this
series, not because I wanted to move ahead or wasn’t interested in the
stories, but simply because I bought this one at a large discount. My
plan was to read the two intermediate books first, but then decided just
to go ahead and read this one, instead. Although I liked the first three
Temeraire novels, they weren’t my
favorites, and I found them a little slow, and at times taxing with the
language. This novel is no different, as Laurence and Temeraire travel
Apparently what I missed in the previous books was
an invasion of England by Napoleon, the exercising of dragon’s rights
after their visit to China, and a visit to Africa, where presumably
Demane was picked up as a part of Temeraire’s crew. Presumably the
government exiled Laurence and Temeraire to their penal colony in
Australia to silence them, and they stopped off on the coast of Africa
on the way. Now, they’ve arrived, and the colony in Sydney was been
taken over by some of the inmates, the governor deposed. I don’t
remember the dragon Iskierka or Granby her rider, but they were
interesting characters to add to the mix.
Then there’s Rankin,
whom I vaguely remember from the first book. He had high ideals about
status and position, so didn’t take well to Laurence’s change of career.
Here, he arrives in Australia to take possession of one of the three
eggs Temeraire brought with him to start an Australian colony. The
newborn dragonet was hilarious in his honesty and sarcasm, and had
absolutely no filters on what he was saying. Throughout the book,
although I hated the character, I found him a great distraction from
everything else that’s going on.
Instead of getting involved in
the power struggles between the governor and the self-imposed new
management, Laurence takes the dragons out over the Blue Mountains in
search of a path to the interior of the continent. Temeraire carries the
two eggs as well as a crew who is supposed to dig out the pass. I often
forget how huge Australia is. I’ve never been, but just looking at it on
a map shows that it’s much bigger than the word “nation” implies. I’ve
heard that everything is around the coast, while the interior is
crisscrossed with dirt roads. While the dragons get confused by the
passages in the mountains, because the lay of the land is so twisted,
once they pass into the interior, I’m sure they wish they were back in
While they are exploring the countryside, one of
the eggs is stolen by the natives. It once again shows how large the
country is that the natives can keep hidden from aerial dragons for such
a long time. As the dragons fly a search pattern, the natives somehow
keep from getting caught. The dragons are always at least a day behind
them. At this time, the second egg hatches, and out pops a dragonet who
is very small, weak, and can’t do much of anything. The general
conclusion is to kill the dragonet, but neither Laurence nor Temeraire
support that. In the hesitation that follows, the new dragon, Kulingile,
is suddenly taken by Demane, to the dismay of everybody. Now instead of
flying while carrying an egg, Temeraire has to carry the rapidly growing
Kulingile. Caesar constantly complains about the dragonet’s appetite,
especially when food starts to become scarce in the desert.
each watering hole, people start to disappear, and it turns out that
local bunyips are responsible. They hide underground to snatch unwary
people resting at the water. I liken them to the water snakes on the
trip to China. The dragons start ripping up the burrows, after which
follows a stressful encounter with quicksand, as the bunyips deflect the
passage of an underground river to soften the sand under Temeraire. It
takes everyone’s strength to help him get out. I like the way they make
peace with the bunyips after that, leaving kangaroos at each of the
burrows in thanks for sharing the water holes.
There is another
frightening scene where the entire landscape catches fire. Even the
mighty dragons have trouble keeping control above or around the blaze.
On the other hand, they now have lots of barbequed kangaroos.
The story starts to get interesting near the end, after they’ve
traversed the desert and arrived at the northern coast. There they find
a settlement of Chinese. The Navy people want to destroy the outpost,
where Laurence and Temeraire understand these people, after their
adventures in Throne of Jade. They partake of the hospitality, and
Laurence is honored as a son of the Emperor. The native Larrakia have
brought the third egg here, and it has hatched, so there’s no way the
British can get it back. But a British navy ship independently finds the
colony, and attacks. I liked the way the Chinese used their trained
water snakes to attack the vessel (by dropping fish on the deck).
Temeraire and the others manage to drag the crippled vessel into shallow
waters so the crews don’t die, but the British are forced to surrender.
I also liked the way we heard about news from around the world,
as American and South American traders made shore at the Chinese colony.
Apparently the African militants with their dragons have crossed the
ocean and are attacking slavers in America, not necessarily waiting to
see if the people they kill are actually slavers. Then there’s
Napoleon’s continually waging war against the rest of Europe. And I’m
not sure why Laurence is surprised to learn that the Chinese are
breeding dragons of new varieties, like the one with an enormous
wingspan that can reach China from Australia.
The journey home is
a basic story, and compliments the rest of the book. It’s clear that the
British are no longer the masters of the world, as even the dragon
snakes are patrolling the harbor near Sydney, ready to attack if the
British get out of hand. The story will undoubtedly continue, and I may
pick up another in the series in the future. Unfortunately, while
interesting, the stories are not fully holding my interest, which is why
I had such a long time between books.