With Temeraire/His Majesty's Dragon, newcomer Naomi Novik came out of left field with what certainly appeared to be a winner. The quality of its sequel, Throne of Jade, demonstrated that the first volume was no fluke. Building on existing storylines, it showed that Novik's series possessed a lot more depth than its predecessor hinted at. And with Black Powder War, the author sets the bar even higher.
Some readers pointed out that this series didn't fill one with awe like works by authors such as George R. R. Martin, R. Scott Bakker and Steven Erikson. Be that as it may, in terms of entertainment this trilogy is definitely a breath of fresh air that enables it to stand out in the fantasy genre.
More and more, it's evident that Novik has an historian's eye for details. The backdrop of the tale remains the Napoleonic Wars. Bonaparte himself makes an appearance. The author's erudite knowledge of that historical period imbues her books with realism. And yet, as I mentioned in my review of His Majesty's Dragon, this is not your typical alternate history novel.
Although Laurence and Temeraire hold center stage once again, Black Powder War permits us to get better acquainted with other characters, both old and new. Granby, especially, comes to mind. Tharkay is also an interesting character, mostly because it's impossible to size him up. We get to see more of Lien, the albino dragon. Iskierka, a dragonet we meet near the end of the novel, shows a lot of potential.
Once more, it was a joyride to follow Temeraire's misadventures as Laurence and his crew must fly overland from China to Istanbul. Orders of capital import reach Laurence in Macao. Time being of the essence, a sea voyage cannot be considered. With the French doing their utmost to secure an alliance with China and with Napoléon terrorizing Continental Europe, Laurence is acutely aware that they have no time to lose. With the enigmatic Tharkay as their guide, they embark on a long sojourn. Along the way, feral dragons will land them in a heap of troubles, and they will soon discover that treachery is afoot within the Ottoman Empire. Somehow, they must find a way to return to England.
My only disappointment is that Black Powder War is by no means the end of the trilogy, not even an end. The book ends with a cliffhanger of a sort. Which means that I must now wait for the fourth volume to see what happens next. Quite vexing, actually!;-)
Kudos to Naomi Novik for breathing new life in the much-overused dragon concept, which in itself if laudable. Moreover, she did it with the skills of a veteran writer and unmistakable panache to boot!
Kudos also to Del Rey Books for releasing the three volumes of this trilogy in so short a span of time. For once, readers can have their cake and eat it too!
For the sole reason that it's a welcome change from the multitude of dark and gritty fantasy epics, I encourage everyone to give Naomi Novik a shot. You won't be disappointed. I haven't had this much fun reading fantasy books in quite some time!
The final verdict: 8/10
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