Review of VICTORY OF EAGLES by Naomi Novik (see her website)
Del Rey, July 2008
Napoleon has invaded England. Using tactics recommended by his dragon-advisor, and providing dragons with far more rights than those enjoyed by English dragons, Napoleon demoralizes the English army, outmarches and outfights them, and forces them to flee to Scotland. Meanwhile, one of England's top officers has been condemned to death for treason for his part in bringing a cure to the disease that threatened to wipe out Europe's dragon population (and at the same time eliminate the threat of Napoleon's invasion). Without Captain Laurence, and his dragon Temeraire, England seems to have no hope.
Inspired by the example of Chinese dragons, Temeraire intends to have dragons recognized as people, with rights to pay, freedom, votes, and to make their own decisions. Napoleon's invasion gives Temeraire far more bargaining power than he'd held before--his corps of wild dragons and dragons retired to stud just might be strong enough to hold Napoleon's invading hordes off. Still, England dare never admit it made a mistake in condemning Laurence--indeed, by their own standards, they acted properly, although Laurence couldn't have made any other decision.
Author Naomi Novik (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Novik) continues her look at the Napoleonic Wars from viewpoint of a world with dragons. With Temeraire's help, the English do their best to turn England into a smaller, but still deadly version of Napoleon's long march back from Moscow, in the face of growing resistance and bitter cold. English control of the seas means that Napoleon cannot bring in food for his growing armies, and Temeraire's irregulars manage to make life miserable (and short) for Napoleon's foraging parties.
Novik manages to make Napoleon look pretty good. He's quick to adapt new tactics, even if these are suggested by others, he's open to granting dragons the kind of rights Temeraire has no hope of achieving through the English government, and he's honorable to his opponents. In contrast, the English attempt to introduce a plague that would largely destroy a continent's worth of sapient creatures, including those owned by her own allies, demand that Laurence save their cause with no thought that his doing so might commute his sentence, and continue to think of dragons as a kind of beast rather than as intelligent beings--ignoring all evidence to the contrary. Temeraire and Laurence are the protagonists, but I find myself pulling for Napoleon.
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