Hence, it was somewhat of a tall order to follow this up. Indeed, Empire of Ivory needed to live up to the high expectations generated by the first three volumes in the series. And once more, Naomi Novik, writing with the skills of a veteran and with remarkable panache, rose to the occasion!
A tragedy has struck His Majesty's Aerial Corps. An epidemic of unknown origin is decimating the dragons' fleet, forcing most of the survivors into quarantine. Which leaves England virtually defenseless against Bonaparte's encroaching armies. As France's sorties become bolder and more frequent with each passing day, it's up to Laurence and Temeraire, along with a few uninfected dragons, to find a cure to the deadly contagion. Their mission takes them to distant Africa, where they believe a cure might be discovered. Yet in the heart of that mysterious continent lies a secret which could change everything. . .
Once again, Novik builds on existing storylines and comes up with a number of fascinating new plotlines. In previous reviews I claimed that some facets of Novik's earlier Temeraire novels hinted at a lot more depth than meets the eye. And Empire of Ivory demonstrates that it is indeed the case, and no doubt about it.
I must admit that I feared that this series would become a bit formulaic and episodic in style and tone, with Temeraire and Laurence coming through at the end of every book. Well, let's just say that Naomi Novik disabused me of that notion with this one. The author has quite a few surprises up her sleeve, which Empire of Ivory proves beyond the shadow of a doubt.
My only complaint lies in the fact that this novel ends with a major cliffhanger. Don't get me wrong: This one is as self-contained as the previous volumes. But I hate the fact that I now have to wait a year before discovering what happens next, especially in light of that ending! Incidentally, the next volume will be published in hardcover (at least in North America).
With four interesting and entertaining novels under her belt, there is no question that Naomi Novik is for real. And with such accessible books, it won't be long before she surpasses Anne McCaffrey as the "dragon lady."
The final verdict: 8/10