With the French pushed back in the last novel, it is now time for Laurence to face the consequences of his treason. After Temeraire and Laurence are crucial to the British victory, rather than continued confinement, the government chooses to deport them to the penal colony of New South Wales, or Australia. After all, Temeraire refuses to go back to the breeding grounds, and the government feels more comfortable sending a rebellious and politically minded dragon to a far away corner of the globe where he won’t be able to influence the rest of dragons and further disrupt the status quo.
Along with Laurence and Temeraire are three dragon eggs to start the colony, Granby and Iskierka, and Demane and Sipho, Laurence’s new crew members from Africa, as well as a few other loyal crew members, a selection of Aerial officers to establish the new covert, and ship full of prisoners. Iskierka forced herself (and basically kidnapped her captain Granby in the process) because she wants an egg with Temeraire so she can have offspring that has divine wind and fire breathing capabilities. Once in Sydney, Laurence and Granby try their best to avoid becoming embroiled in the local politics and the rebellions against the governor. As a result, they are more than happy to jump at the opportunity to help Tharkay survey the continent and figure out the feasibility of building a road while figuring out how Chinese goods are being smuggled to Sydney. Novik also brings back Rankin from His Majesty’s Dragon who shows up shortly after their arrival, and claims the first egg to hatch, one descended from the feral Arkady. Taking after his sire, this new dragon is nowhere near as interested in pleasing Rankin as Velocitas, and much more mercenary in his approach.
The three dragons, their captains and crews pack themselves and the rest of the eggs up and embark on a reconnaissance of Australia. This gets complicated when one egg is stolen, leaving behind only the oddly small and stunted one. Temeraire takes the loss to heart and makes it his responsibility to recover the egg, and the rest of the novel basically documents this journey.
After all the action of the other novels, this one is slow, and most of the novel only deals with the British team interacting with themselves. I guess I was hoping it would be like Empire of Ivory where they discovered an unknown society of dragons, but this was unfortunately not the case (which makes sense, while Australia has dangerous wildlife, it doesn’t exactly have large natural predators). However, this makes for a more tedious novel, and also allows for the weaknesses of previous novels to take the forefront. At six novels in, some parts of the dragon personalities are becoming a bit annoying. While in retrospect, this is probably due to their youth, it also may have a bit to do with the development of dragons. Temeraire was full grown and capable of reproduction after a year which means I keep seeing him as an adult dragon. Personality-wise though, he is both incredibly intelligent but also still somewhat toddler-like as far as his petty jealousies and annoyances. Dragons like gold and property, and while there is definitely amusement in this, sometimes it feels a bit repetitive. I think part of the issue is also that we are mostly around new dragons. We meet older dragons every once in a while who certainly display more wisdom but at this point, even though Temeraire has gone on many adventures and learned many things, it doesn’t feel like he has necessarily matured or evolved, and it would be interesting to see him as he actually gets older.