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Back in action
on February 22, 2014
Will Laurence and his faithful dragon Temeraire have been living in exile in Australia for the past few years.
But building pavilions doesn't make for a very exciting book, so Naomi Novik's seventh novel is all about bringing the awesome pair back into action. It's a solid, tight historical fantasy that blasts Laurence and Temeraire into yet another strange exotic place, complete with shipwrecks, Frenchmen, whales, mutiny and feathered dragons.
Laurence is offered his commission back, because the British government has decided that it needs his help once more -- Brazil is in turmoil because of the Tswana empire, and the French have thrown Spain into chaos. Despite Laurence's misgivings, he and Temeraire leave on a ship for Brazil -- along with Demane, Granby, Iskierka and Kulingile.
But near the end of their voyage, their ship is destroyed, and the survivors find themselves marooned in the land of the Incas, ruled by dragons and not too pleased to see them. As they work their way to Rio, Temeraire and Laurence find themselves embroiled in another diplomatic disaster that can only end in another battle.
Temeraire and Laurence have gone to Asia, the Middle-East, Africa, Europe and even far-off Australia. Since they're rapidly running out of far-off places to visit, it's time for the pair to head off to South and Central America, which allows Novik to further flesh out her fictional world -- she mingles real history (Brazil's slavery issues) with fictional dragoncentric social customs.
The story also moves at a quicker pace than "Tongues of Serpents," with more dragon-fighting, fiery shipwrecks and a big climactic battle. Novik's prose has the stately, detailed quality of 19th-century novels, but she also imbues it with lots of vivid details ("blue light shining cold off the metal and casting a strange grey color over his face").
We also see how Laurence and Temeraire have matured after their exile. Laurence is now very aware that his conscience may be at odds with his orders, and struggles with the loss of a personal friend. And Temeraire is less impulsive and more thoughtful, as evidenced by his talk with the ancient Curicuillor. He still has a tinge of possessiveness, since he doesn't like the idea of Laurence having kids.
There is also some nice development for both the other dragons and their captains -- Iskierka and Granby hash out their differences, and Kulingile is seeking to assert himself now that he's no longer an undersized runt.
The captain and dragon are older and wiser, but Naomi Novik's strong writing and even stronger characters make "Crucible of Gold" a delight. It'll be a long wait to see what happens next.