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    Review of CRUCIBLE OF GOLD by Naomi Novik


    Del Rey, March 2012

    England still stands against Napoleon, but she's fearfully short on allies, which is why the English government does the unthinkable, reinstating Captain Laurence to his position and sending him, along with his dragon Temeraire, on a voyage to Brazil. Napoleon has sent African dragons there, ostensibly to recover their stolen descendents (humans captured and enslaved by slave traders). The African dragons know they're being used, that Napoleon doesn't care about the fate of the slaves. Still, they don't have to like Napoleon to want to overthrow the brutal system of Brazil.

    As it happens, the British dragon transport is swamped and the Laurence and the survivors from his party end up not in Brazil but Peru where the Inca fiercely defend their independence (Pissaro hadn't calculated on dragons assisting the Inca when he invaded). British diplomat Arthur Hammond schemes for an arranged marriage that will bring the Inca into the war in Europe on the side of England. Of course, Napoleon has other ideas.

    Author Naomi Novik (see more reviews of alternate fantasy by Novik) continues her charming series about an alternate earth where dragons fight along with humans. Over the past several volumes, Novik has widened her story, shifting the focus from mirroring the historical battles fought by Napoleon into the rest of the world. China, Australia, Africa and now the New World become the focus. As she continues, she also deepens the characters. Temeraire (the dragon) has truly become the central figure in the story with Laurence providing a foil rather than the driving figure. Together, Laurence and Temeraire attempt to reconcile their certainty that England is in the right (a feeling made easier to support by Napoleon's depotism in Europe but made more difficult by England's own bigotry against dragons, it's single-minded support for evil allies and its truly evil plans to wage biological war on France) with the reality they see around them. No longer are Laurence and Temeraire willing to accept orders. Now, they see the evils of slavery and resolve to do something about it... hoping to find a way to make their actions redound to England's benefit.

    CRUCIBLE OF GOLD is a lot of fun. Temeraire is a complex character (yes, he's a dragon but this merely gives Novik the chance to take him outside of social constraints and let him see the world through fresh eyes--he may not be human, but he's a person). His views of the world, interaction with Laurence, the other humans and the other dragons are consistently amusing. Then Novik lays on a solid fantasy adventure set in a world sufficiently close to our historical one that I, at least, hurried to Wikepedia to determine whether, perhaps, Napoleon really did interfere in Brazil while the Portugese royal family fled there during the Peninsular Wars. I confess that I liked the parallel history of the earlier books but I think Novik and her characters have matured as we step outside the narrow bounds of repeating our own history

    It isn't essential to read the entire series as CRUCIBLE OF GOLD stands well on its own (although the whole series is superior). I really enjoyed this one.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 2/06/12

    Buy Crucible of Gold: A Novel of Temeraire from Amazon

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