I’m still very much enjoying this series, though this book wasn’t as excellent as the last one. It’s still good though, a rollicking adventure with high stakes in an exotic land. Novik presents early nineteenth century Australia as a rough land of rough men, and the countryside as a forlorn wilderness.
The characters are the same characters we’ve loved from the other books, including Rankin, the horrid captain who caused the death of his dragon in the first book. He’s come to Australia in hopes of securing one of the dragon hatchlings as soon as their eggs hatch. Only for political reasons, the crews have to take to the outback, and while they take the dragon eggs with them, one of the eggs is stolen.
Tharkay, the half-Nepalese soldier/spy from earlier books is also along, and he’s got a goal of his own: to find out how Chinese trade goods are dribbling into Sydney, undercutting the East India Company’s monopoly. Roland and Dumain are also along, and Granby with Iskierka. So all your fun friends are along, with plenty of conflict to keep them going. Temeraire tries very hard to convince the new hatchlings to ignore Rankin, but when the hatchlings are born, we realize that dragons have their own personalities which do not always suit their elders–a lesson many parents must learn time and time again!
The plotting, while tight, is kind of my only gripe about this book. Gripe is too strong a word. It’s still an excellent story, it’s just that many of the characters aren’t really invested in this story. People die, but they are all redshirts who don’t really matter. And they want to get the egg back and find out about the trade, but it’s not really personally important to the characters, it’s just a job they’re doing to get out of Sydney until things cool down. The mood of Lawrence is tired, tired and sad and wanting a home. And Temeraire spends a lot of the book sick from a cough, so it felt more like the sad part of an adventure, when you’re tired and hungry and hot or cold and thirsty, and less like the fun part of an adventure, where you blow up the enemy ship and everyone cheers. Still a great book, and I’ve already bought the next in the series.