Black Powder War
by Naomi Novik
Review by Paul Haggerty
Del Rey Mass Market ISBN/ITEM#: 0345481305
Date: 30 May, 2006 List Price $7.50 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The main plot points can be summed up with: Napoleon is on a rampage; No one is who they seem to be; and the light at the end of the tunnel is the headlamp of an oncoming train.
Although they may have solved their problems in China, the solution created new enemies as well as friends, and those new enemies are hot for revenge. While Temeraire embarks on a long hazardous journey flying across the expanse of two continents, the fates of empires spin around each other, seeking supremacy, or sometimes just survival. On arrival in Istanbul to collect the promised eggs, the party is put into very polite and comfortable quarantine. It seems there was a problem with payment, and the Sultan is not willing to part with his side of the deal. Unfortunately, Laurence's orders are to get those eggs and he's not about to disobey the order.
Meanwhile in Europe, a new general has emerged and been placed in charge of Napoleon's armies. Under this new leadership the French are now posed to smash their way past all opposition and finally achieve total domination of Europe. This is a situation which would allow Napoleon to finally turn his full attention on the British Isles which has held out against him for so long. Laurence knows that this outcome can not be allowed to come to pass, but just how is he going to prevent it?
Black Powder War returns more to the war arena than the previous book. There's still plenty of diplomacy and backstabbing, but the main thrust of the book is the campaign in Europe, and that means battle after weary battle; well, weary for the guys fighting it, the reader should have no such problems. It also continues the thread of culture shock as Temeraire crosses through ancient empires whose concepts of honor and morality are quite different from what he's been taught by his friends. Clearly defined (though not always logical) philosophies of life are suddenly tossed out the window in the face of the reality of cultural relativism. Whether you approve of the laws of the Ottoman Empire, when in Istanbul, you'd better understand them and follow them. Ignorant good faith can still get you killed.
Novik has done a wonderful job of bringing out the flavor of not only turn of the 18th century Europe, but several other cultures scattered through out the globe. Dragons are a fact of life on her Earth and must be incorporated into each culture while maintaining the historical foundations at the same time. Each culture has its rules concerning dragon behavior, and yet you can't help get the feeling as Temeraire talks with his kin, that there's another culture entirely within the ranks of the dragons. While following the rules of where ever they live, the dragons all clearly have their own ideas of their place in the world.
The volume I read had a sneak peak at the first chapter of the fourth, currently unnamed, book in the series. Even from that glimpse, it's obvious that even more disturbing things are a foot in this parallel world, and I for one, am looking forward to it despite the horrible way Novik has chosen to treat some of my new, close, friends.
I strongly recommend this entire series.