Victory of Eagles (Temeraire, Book 5)
by Naomi Novik
Review by Paul Haggerty
Del Rey Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345496881
Date: 08 July 2008 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Napoleon is poised to invade Britain, and Britain's main line of defense, her dragon airforce is still dreadfully weakened by plague. Capt. Will Laurence is under arrest, charged with treason, and the only reason he still isn't dead is because the government seeks to control his dragon. Temeraire, has been sent to the breeding grounds, and is only behaving himself to keep Laurence alive. So when Napoleon launches his sneak attack and actually establishes a foothold on English soil, there's not much that can be done except to fight the good fight and hope that the other will survive. And considering the types of things Temeraire likes to get up to: rabble rousing, incitement to mutiny, revolutionary calls for reform, freedom, and equality, being a multi-ton dragon isn't going to protect him nearly as much as one might expect. The British are as likely to want him dead as the French.
Victory of Eagles is the fifth in the Temeraire series, and picks up the action right after the final events of Empire of Ivory. Laurence has been placed on a prison ship out in the Channel. He fully understands what's happening all too well, and fully expects to be executed at any time. He knows what he did was an act of treason, no matter that it had to be done. And when you're guilty of a crime you have to pay the price. Temeraire, on the other hand, expects justice, and rationality. What he and Laurence did was for the good of everyone. Why can't they see that? He just doesn't understand governments.
And now Napoleon has landed in England and the world has turned upside down. Always willing to turn a blind eye to fact when it's inconvenient, the military is willing to postpone Laurence's execution as long as he can be useful to them. And being the only man that can control Temeraire is considered extremely useful. But a good deal of the book goes by before the two can be reunited. And in the meantime each is doing everything in his power to stop, or at least delay the northern march of Napoleon's troops. There are plans involved to drive the invader from England's shores, but those plans need resources and circumstances to be successful. And for that, they need time. But time is not on their side. Every day sees Napoleon established more securely. Something needs to be done to keep him off balance until the time is right to counter-attack. And, of course, that something will but Laurence and Temeraire right in the middle of the direst peril.
Victory of Eagles continues the tale begun in His Majesty's Dragon and in a way returns the narrative to its roots. His Majesty's Dragon was essentially the origin story backed up with a good old fashion invasion plot. Throne of Jade, Black Powder War, and Empire of Ivory were more exploration novels, with plenty of battles to be sure, but primarily the flavor of the latter three novels were to show off the planet Novik has created so that we could see the kinds of changes that might be expected given the introduction of dragons. And while Napoleon's conquest of Europe has been a thread through all the novels, Victory of Eagles is a return to basic story of the battle for the freedom of Great Britain. There's not exploration or sociological studies here, just tactics. strategy, and plenty of battles. Despite this, the events of the three intervening novels are critical. Temeraire has learned a lot about his place in the world, and the differences that exist between the different societies. This help shape him into a leader that can call the other dragons to arms and lead them without the help of humans in the defense of his adopted home. The rogue dragons from Black Powder War are still around, still stirring up trouble, and still on the lookout for a free meal. Trying to make use of their strengths, while keeping their wild individualistic streaks under control, takes a lot of hard work.
By the end of the book, the dragons have learned a lot, and that a lot of what they thought was true, isn't necessarily. The humans have learned a lot more about the dragons, not that they have to like it. While Great Britain isn't about to suddenly wake up and grant their dragons citizenship, the relationship between the two species has been changed forever.
There's no real hint of where the story is going to go from here. But we are left with the knowledge that more exploration is in the cards. After all, there's still a lot of world out there that could easily bare the mysterious footnote: Here there be dragons!