Book Review: Empire of Ivory
Returning from disaster on the Prussian front, William Laurence and his dragon Temeraire find yet more misfortune awaiting them. A lingering but deadly sickness has struck the dragons of Britain, leaving His Majesty’s Arial Corps barely able to keep up enough of an illusion of strength to prevent an immediate invasion from the air forces of Napoleonic France.
Fresh from their experience in China – where dragons and humans exist as equal members of society – it is all the more distressing to Laurence and Temeraire to see their sick friends treated as dumb beasts. In an attempt to argue for dragon’s rights they form natural allies of Wilberforce and the abolitionist movement. Too late, however. When they are sent to Africa to attempt to find a cure for the dragon plague, their success brings them to the attention of the Empire of the title; the powerful empire of the heartland of Africa, whose dragon riding warriors have reached the end of their tolerance with slavery and Western colonization.
I don’t think I’ve made any secret of the fact that I was disappointed with the book before this; ‘Black Powder War’, in which Novik fell into the trap of describing Prussian troop movements with the most exquisite detail and truly authentic boredom. It looked then as though the series was about to fall into the pit of ‘worthy serious literature’ which would be read by academics and fans of table-top war-gaming only. But fortunately that hasn’t happened. This is a return to the exciting derring-do of the first two books. I loved the way that we simultaneously met ‘real’ celebrities of the 18th Century, like Wilberforce and Nelson, while also expanding Novik’s world of dragon riders. The glimpses of African village culture, each with their dragon elder looking after them, were very touching, and the anger of the Empire of Ivory against Laurence and his ilk was a blast of fresh air. I’m very glad that they are poised to (I hope) form an interesting part of book 5.
I also adored Nelson! As a Nelson fangirl myself Novik’s version with his charisma, fearlessness and total ruthlessness in the pursuit of victory is as lovable as the original. I was unsettled by the ending. Laurence’s morals are finer than mine, and in consequence I found the ending very painful. It seems hard to believe that Book 5, (and I’m sure there must be one,) won’t be very very short. But whatever length, I’ll be pre-ordering it, because this is a superb series and it seems to be just getting better.