I will admit, I thought I might be out-smarting these books, with the formula all figured out, but this one, the third in the “Temeraire” series, totally took me on a ride. Delightful, surprising, and exciting. Well played, Novik.
Black Powder War bothers with barely any passage of time after Throne of Jade. The company is still in China, preparing for travel back to England, when natural disaster and politics coincide and intervene, causing Laurence and Temeraire to take their scrappy crew of aviators overland towards Istanbul to pick up some dragon eggs that the British government has arranged to collect from the Turks.
So much adventure, so many corners of this universe to explore, so much fun. Just the geographic details alone are pretty awesome: we meet some feral dragons in the Himalayas, come up against raiders in the desert, add a grumpy, socially outcast adventurer to the band of travelers, and enjoy some delicious camels. After some political intrigue in Turkey, onward to re-join the war against Napolean.
Temeraire is still interested in leading the fight for dragon independence, but before then, he’s going to have to meet his pretty awesome nemesis in a final show-down (and probably some smaller ones before that). I should have seen it coming, but honestly, I didn’t: the Big Bad of Book 2, Yongxing, had a dragon companion, Lien. She is a Celestial like Temeraire but albino: white with red eyes, perfectly opposite Temeraire’s rich black. She’s thirty years older, and super duper angry that Yongxing is dead. As she puts it, spooky and calm, “‘You have overthrown the whole of my life, torn me from family and friends and home; you have ruined all my lord’s hopes for China, and I must live knowing that all for which he fought and labored was for naught. His spirit will live unquiet, and his grave go untended. No, I will not kill you, or your captain, who binds you to his country. …I will see you bereft of all that you have, of home and happiness and beautiful things. I will see your nation cast down and your allies drawn away. I will see you as alone and friendless and wretched as am I; and then you may live as long as you like, in some dark and lonely corner of the earth, and I will call myself content.’”
Nice, right? And spoiler alert: she’s not defeated yet. So, she’s going to continue to pursue Temeraire and Laurence into Book 4, and I’m going to be reading.