Ossus Library Index
Fantasy Index


A novel by Naomi Novik
(2010, Del Rey)

Temeraire, book 6

Arriving in Australia to begin their exile, Laurence and Temeraire travel through the dry interior, in search of stolen eggs and a passage to more fertile lands.


-- First reading (hardcover)
October 12th to November 4th, 2017


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.

Spoiler review:

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 to Australia.

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 the mountains.

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.

At 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.


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