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Naomi Novik – Tongues of Serpents

July 12, 2010

LibraryThing Early Reviewers74. Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik (2010)
Temeraire, Book 6

Read my review of book:
1. His Majesty’s Dragon
2. Throne of Jade
3. Black Powder War
4. Empire of Ivory
5. Victory of Eagles

Length: 276 pages
Genre: Historical Fantasy

Started: 24 June 2010
Finished: 30 June 2010

Where did it come from? LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program.
Why do I have it? I’ve loved the rest of the series, so heck yeah I wanted to read the new one.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 03 April 2010.

Crikey! Imagine
the Croc Hunter if he’d had
dragons to play with.

Summary: Following their treason, Laurence and Temeraire have been transported to Australia, with enough dragon eggs to start a breeding colony there. However, the far side of the world doesn’t offer them much hospitality. The former governor of the penal colony, Sir William Bligh (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) has been mutinied against yet again, and is looking for the dragons’ help in restoring him to his proper administrative post. Furthermore, Captain Rankin, whose callous neglect of his former dragon almost certainly led to its death, has arrive in Australia as well and has placed himself in command, after bonding with one of the new hatchlings. Eager to get out of Sydney, Laurence and Temeraire (along with Granby, Iskierka, their crews, and a group of convicts) set out on a scouting mission to determine if there is a safe passage through the mountains and canyons nearby. However, they uncover evidence of a smuggling operation that may be undermining British interests in the area… and then those self-same smugglers steal one of the remaining dragon eggs, leading to a cross-country chase across an increasingly inhospitable landscape, all in the hopes of recovering the precious egg before it hatches.

Review: I was really hoping – and expecting – to love this book; the rest of the series has been great, enough so that I’ve described it as a must-read for fantasy fans. However, Tongues of Serpents doesn’t live up to the standards set by the previous books for one simple reason: nothing happens. Most of the book is spent wandering around the outback, not really accomplishing much other than dealing with the hostility of the weather and the terrain. The main conflict of the book, the idea that smugglers might be avoiding port taxes and thus cutting into the profitability of British shipping interests, somehow just doesn’t carry the same dramatic punch as, say, Napoleon invading England. The egg-napping plot does generate a fair share of tension, but eventually kind of fizzles, leaving the situation at the end of the book not much different from that at the beginning.

I was surprised, however, that despite the plotting problems, Tongues of Serpents was still pretty enjoyable to read. That, too, is down to one main factor: Temeraire’s not-inconsiderable charm. He’s a wonderful character, and watching the changes in him, and in his relationship with Laurence, has always formed the real heart of the books. That’s certainly the case in this installment as well. I’m glad that Novik decided to keep giving Temeraire his own point-of-view chapters (early books in the series were told exclusively from Laurence’s point of view), as his dragon-ly perspective on just about everything is so interesting, and almost always downright charming.

Novik’s writing is also just as good as it ever was. Her flair for writing in period style that is still readily readable is impressive, and really adds to the tone of her story. She’s also proven herself here to be excellent at evoking landscapes; I’ve never been to Australia, but her descriptions of the outback brought it to life in all of its vivid, alien, menacing glory. Similarly, although the action scenes were few and far between, whenever one turned up Novik handled it with a masterful blend of description and excitement. I just wish there’d been more stuff happening for her to write about. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: This is the weakest book of the series so far, but the series as a whole is still good enough that I am still looking forward to the next installment, and I would still recommend it both to fantasy fans who like historical fiction, and historical fiction fans who are willing to meet a wonderful dragon.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Naomi Novik’s website

Other Reviews: Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: There were few streets in the main port of Sydney which deserved the name, besides the one main thoroughfare, and even that bare packed dirt, lined only with a handful of small and wretched buildings that formed all the permanence of the colony.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 23: ““There is capot, I am afraid,” Tharkay said, putting down his last card.” – the taking by one player of all the tricks of a deal, as in piquet.
  • p. 39: ““Because what must the cawker do but ten minutes after we are at table declare Bligh has been monstrous used by a pack of mutinous dogs, and it ought not be borne.”” – a person who caulks the seams of boats or the like.
  • p. 127: “The other men jeered and called, yelling at him, “Bring it on quick, Bob, and we’ll be merry as grigs all this f*cking flight for once; you won’t have it all to yourself, you old sodden b*tch, no you won’t.”” – a lively person.
  • p. 208: “It was not merely the presence of the Chinese, or their cooperation with the native Larrakia: two days after their arrival, several Macassan praus appeared in the harbor, come to harvest trepang.” – any of various holothurians or sea cucumbers
  • p. 258: ““No; and if you ask me, you are a great gaby to stay,” she added.” – a fool.

**All quotes are from an Advance Reading Copy and may not reflect the final finished text.**

10 Comments leave one →
  1. July 12, 2010 2:46 am

    I feel like another of these books had nothing much happen in it, but I can’t remember which one. I think Novik is a great writer, but her plotting may need some tightening. I’m quite glad I didn’t request this from Amazon Vine now – I’ll wait for it from the library.

    • July 12, 2010 9:45 am

      Meghan – I think you’re thinking of Victory of Eagles? At least, the first line of my review says “Action-wise, a lot less happens in this installment of the Temeraire series than in the previous few books.” But that one was saved by the novelty of Temeraire getting POV chapters, whereas here, that shine had worn off a little.

  2. July 12, 2010 3:23 pm

    Sorry you were a bit disappointed by this one. Novik is on my TBR list, but I haven’t start reading the books yet because for some reason, I’m a bit scared to get into it. I’ve heard a lot of good about those though, and as you said I like both fantasy and historical fiction, so I have to read them at some point!

    • July 13, 2010 9:36 am

      kay – They can be a bit daunting, but personally I find them surprisingly easy to read. I suspect that once you get a few chapters into the first one you’ll be hooked!

  3. July 12, 2010 6:04 pm

    Temeraire really is a superb character. Does Iskierska have anything to do in this one? I thought she showed such early promise, and then she never got any really good action. Oh, and was Bligh a terrible dictator man, or not so bad? I have heard that in Real Life he was not that bad, but I don’t know if it’s true.

    • July 13, 2010 9:40 am

      Jenny – Iskierka is around, and is doing about as much as anybody else (read: not a whole lot). And I don’t really know about Bligh, since we only see him after the revolt, and which point he’s just kind of whiny. I got the impression that Novik thought of him as fussily bureaucratic and self-righteous, but not necessarily dictatorial.

  4. July 13, 2010 10:41 am

    I’ve been keeping my eye on this series because I really want to read it….even if one of the middle installments isn’t the best, I read every book in a series – can’t help myself. :)

    • July 13, 2010 10:45 am

      Michele – Agreed! If I like the early books in a series, it has to go *really* off the rails before I’ll give it up. And this certainly isn’t a case of going totally off the rails… more of a slight slowdown due to cows on the tracks. (Or since it’s in Australia, kangaroos on the tracks?)

  5. July 27, 2010 9:50 pm

    Oh, that’s disappointing! I’ve so been looking forward to seeing Lawrence and Temeraire deal with the outback. :(

  6. August 1, 2010 6:09 am

    Hey, great website! I especially like the vocab lists, I’m so lazy that I never look these words up.

    I actually preferred this book to “Victory of Eagles”. Being Australian myself, it was kind of cool to recognise places and peoples, and I loved the inclusion of bunyips! Character interests me more than battles, and I think you see some big changes in Lawrence in this book. Looking forward to the next.

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