October 19, 2008

Book Thoughts: Black Powder War (Temeraire, Book 3)

Title: Black Powder War
Author: Naomi Novik
Genre: Fantasy, Alternate History
Publisher: Del Rey (May 30, 2006)
Quick-Hit Thought: If you weren't sure after Book 2, don't continue. Worth reading if you've enjoyed the series.

I'm very conflicted about the third book in the Temeraire series. With a title such as Black Powder War, I thought I may finally see some dragons put to use in the massive battles of the Napoleonic era. Unfortunately, whether it be ship, sickness, cargo duty, or weather, dragons sit on the sidelines.

Once again, the strength of the book is Novik's ability to place dragons admirably into the time period. The way they operate in the military and society makes absolute sense. The difference between various countries and their dragons is well detailed and refreshing.

However, past the melding of dragons into the military and society of the time period, there isn't much to this book. Our hero and his dragon are on their way back from China (a far more interesting country in this alternate universe). They receive urgent news to detour and pick up some dragon eggs purchased from the government of Turkey. Some traveling ensues, blah, blah, blah.

Actually, there is only one thing that saved this book for me: Tharkay. Tharkay is by far the most interesting character in the book (maybe even the series) and is first introduced as a messenger delivering the orders that would eventually spur the journey into Istanbul, Turkey. Tharkay is a classic rogue character, remaining a mystery until the end of the book.

Unfortunately, the truth of Tharkay is wasted on a horribly trivial "save the day for people we don't even care about" ending. The entire end of the book is a let down. At least in Throne of Jade, the long painful journey lead up to a wonderful climatic ending. Not so in Black Powder War. I was absolutely bored by the scenario that ended up playing out, almost angered at the way Tharkay was brought back into the storyline.

Overall, the book reads as well as the first two, but is about as engaging as the paragraph noted on the back of the book. The story isn't what kept me reading through this series. It was the dragons, how they lived, and how people lived with them. However, by the third book I guess I expected some sort of story to conclude. Nothing concluded, and a true good vs. evil plot line just began to emerge. Unfortunately, not enough of one to spur me on to the next book in the series.

My honest opinion: this series is best finished at the end of Throne of Jade.