Review: Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik

Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik (UK edition)

Title: Empire of Ivory (Temeraire 4)
Author: Naomi Novik
Genre: Alternative History, Fantasy, War Novel
Publisher: Harper Voyager (3rd March 2008)
Blurb:

Soar on the wings of adventure

After a year of adventuring from China to the Ottoman Empire and across Europe, Laurence and Temeraire finally land upon the familiar shores of Britain.

But instead of enjoying a jubilant homecoming, they are hushed and herded to a camp far from their usual covert. Laurence soon discovers that during their time in the east, a virulent epidemic swept through the Aerial Corps, and the British have lost many of their dragons. Entire formations have succumbed to the disease, and now only the appearance of an aerial defence keeps Bonaparte from invading.

Laurence and Temeraire are ordered to prepare for another long journey; this time to save the lives of their friends and British autonomy, but to do so they must venture into the most mysterious of places: Africa.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3 stars)
Review:

EMPIRE OF IVORY by Naomi Novik is the fourth book in her brilliant Temeraire series. The novel continues the story of Captain Will Laurence and his dragon Termeraire after the events of the previous book, BLACK POWDER WAR, and continues their story as they land in Britain to discover what has been happening back home. It is not good news; a virulent epidemic has swept through the Aerial Corps, and Laurence and Temeraire find themselves ordered to Africa in search of a possible cure.

To be honest, I found this book problematic. As a reader I found the pacing slow, and not a lot seemed to happen for a long time. It also lacked any sense of urgency for me. I did enjoy reuniting with familiar faces from the first two books, which I missed in the third book in the series. Having said that, the English Literature nerd in me really enjoyed the ideas and themes Novik explored in this novel. It was interesting to see Novik’s interpretation of a colonial Africa with dragons and what that would mean. There were some interesting slavery parallels also touched upon. And one of the big themes of this book, and in the series as a whole, is honour and I enjoyed watching that play out on the page. This leaves me in something of a conundrum. From a purely reading experience point of view I think this is the weakest book in the series so far.

The basic plot of EMPIRE OF IVORY is a simple one: Laurence and Temeraire need to find the cure for a virulent epidemic that is sweeping through the dragons of Britain. Novik does a good job keeping this the main focus of the story and also providing some interesting subplots to keep the story moving forward. For me, some of the subplots worked better than others but I still found the story to be fairly engaging. I don’t want to give too much away, but I’m not too sure what I feel about the ending of the book. It’s fair to say it surprised me, and I think it’s in character but… I don’t even know what to say.

I really enjoyed being reunited with Laurence and Temeraire. I really like the friendship between these two characters; it’s what keeps me coming back to the series if I’m honest. After BLACK POWDER WAR (review) it was nice to see Laurence and Temeraire being reunited with their friends, even in such terrible circumstances. Overall I think Novik did a good job writing the secondary characters – some were more successful than others, which I would have liked to see fleshed out a little more.

EMPIRE OF IVORY is a complex addition to the Temeraire series. Whilst I didn’t enjoy the reading experience as much as I have previous books in the series, I do think that this book does add some depth to the series and ask some interesting and complicated questions. If you have enjoyed the Temeraire series so far then I think you will find this book to be an interesting read, particularly if you’re in any way interested in post-colonial theory.

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