Empire of Ivory (Temeraire, Book 4)
by Naomi Novik
Review by Paul Haggerty
Del Rey Mass Market ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345496874
Date: 25 September 2007 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Interview with Naomi Novik / Show Official Info /
Having had recently read a few other "dragons in the military" type novels, I wasn't sure I was going to be terribly impressed with this series when I first started out. But the first one hooked me, and each book thereafter seems to get better than the previous. Each novel to date has had a measure of battles and heroics, exploration of new lands, and introductions to new societies. And this one continues the journey, slashing through the wild unknowns of deepest, darkest Africa, and sampling treats and threats alike. All the civilized nations believe the dragons of Africa to be wild, feral beasts, untamed and untamable, and therefore nothing worth dealing with. But this is where Temeraire's crew is going to have to go if they want to save the world yet again. The plague that is sweeping through the dragons of Britain is identical to the strange cold that Temeraire suffered on his way down the coast of Africa while on the way to China in Throne of Jade. The thought is that, clearly, something down there cured him, and if they could just find it, perhaps they can save the other dragons.
So while their dragon friends are suffering back home, Laurence, Temeraire, and a hand-picked crew sail back down to the southern hemisphere, retracing their steps and trying to repeat everything they did before. But just having their friends dying back home isn't enough of a problem. Tensions flare over the slave trade, treatment of the locals, and the sudden incursions of feral dragons that seem more coordinated then they should be. As usual, things are far more complicated then the experts back home promised and Laurence, Temeraire, and crew are soon trying to complete several life and death missions at once, and learn to deal with a new culture where humans and dragons have bonded in a brand new way. Just because the dragons of Africa have turned a blind eye to the forces of Europe so far, doesn't mean that they haven't noticed what's been going on, and it's never a good idea to disturb a sleeping dragon ... or twenty, ... or several hundred.
And while our heroes manage to escape with their hides intact and save the day by luck and by pluck, the book's conclusion sets the reader up for another long frustrated wait for the next novel. Because neither in real life nor in novels are all the loose ends wrapped up neatly. Because those in power don't like to take chances where their own tender hide is concerned. And because even though Laurence and Temeraire are fighting for the "Right" side, doesn't mean their side always does what is right.
Sometimes correcting a wrong means having to do something wrong; and some people might just call that treason. Novik doesn't go easy on her characters, and the scaring is not always visible on one's hide. What is the price of a man's (or dragon's) honor when they are ordered to go against everything they believe in? What do you do when the price of your life just might be your soul? The answer of course will be explored in the next volume.