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    Review of BLACK POWDER WAR by Naomi Novik (see her website)


    Del Rey, May 2006

    Napoleon has won the great battle of Austerlitz, driving Austria from the coalition against the French and the British are in horrible straits. Captain Will Laurence of the British Dragon Force receives a message in China. He, along with his dragon, Temeraire and their crew, are to return immediately by way of Constantinople. The British have secured the promise of three dragon eggs from the Turks, including a rare fire-breather. But getting from China to Turkey is a challenge.

    Once they arrive in Constantinople, they find that conditions have changed. With Napoleon dominating the battlefield, the Sultan is unwilling to give aid to what he sees as a defeated effort. The recent death of the British ambassador and disappearance of his aide give the Sultan an excuse to wiggle from his promises.

    Fleeing fromom the Turks brings Termeraire and his crew to Prussia--which has finally joined the anti-Napoleon effort. Prussia's large army, firmly drilled in the methods set by Fredrich the Great, seems capable of defeating the French, but the Prussians insist that Laurence and Temeraire remain--in lieu of the twenty dragons promised by the British but not delivered.

    As they prepare for the French attack, Laurence and Temeraire attempt to persuade the Prussians to adapt to more modern tactics--but are unsuccessful. Unfortunately, Temeraire's enemy, a much older and more powerful dragon, has joined with Napoleon. Although she scorns battle, she brings a knowledge of the potential use of dragons that centuries of experience taught the Chinese.

    Meanwhile, Laurence becomes increasingly convinced that Temeraire's goals of dragon enfranchisement are critically important.

    Author Naomi Novik (see more reviews of novels by Novik) continues an intriguing alternte historyased on the Napoleonic wars, but complete with dragons as the ultimate weapon. It's a bit hard to take the alternate history angle too seriously--could history possibly have been so similar to our own if the Romans and Chinese had tamed dragon? Wouldn't they have been able to hold off the barbarian Germans and Huns with these superior weapons? Still, the characters of Temeraire and Laurence, and their quixotic quest to free the dragons of the world definitely charm--and spur reader interest. The abundance of adventure will also involve readers who enjy military ficton.

    Perhaps Novik is saving this plot twist for last, but I have waited for some consideration of the French Revolution and its applicability to the Dragon cause. Temeraire seems content to battle for the English, but the French, even under Napoleon, continue to support the goals of the revolution--and the notions of equality that are so important to Temeraire. In the England of our own, non-dragon, universe, British liberals wrestled with the morality of supporting the regressive regimes of Austria and Russia against the more liberal forces of France. But British liberals, at least, believed that they could get a fair hearing in Parlement. Surely this would not be the case for Temeraire and the dragons. As Napoleon continues to show enlightenment in his treatment of dragons, I wonder whether Temeraire will make the case for switching sides. I certainly hope so.

    Three Stars

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