Book Review: Tongues of Serpents

This is the sixth book in Naomi Novik’s ‘Novels of Temeraire’ and she is clearly very comfortable in her world. The characters are true to themselves, the world is extraordinarily robust, and the issues dealt with are on a grand scale.

Only problem is that not much happened in this book.

Will Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire, have been convicted of treason and have been transported to Australia, which is still a penal colony, to serve out their sentence. Which we assume is a life sentence. When they arrive they find that the governor has been deposed by a populist revolution and they are immediately courted by both sides.

What ensues is a story that follows Laurence, Temeraire, and their party which includes another dragon or two, as they try not to take sides too much and end up doing some exploring.

Great creatures, setting and remarkable prose follow. In truth, the dialogue and prose are so thoroughly accurate to the time setting that they actually become a little opaque. You have to go back and re-read a few times to understand what’s being said sometimes. Which is fine, except for the fact that the book wanders a little.

Yes, there are stolen dragon eggs involved. Yes, there is political intrigue and all of the characters are very well drawn and act like real people. All of this is great, but the book wanders, partly due to the fact that there is a lack of satisfying protagonist.
Even people we want to be villains, or expect to be villains, turn out to have motivations we get and to be pretty okay, really.
What’s more, the action wanders all over the continent and the book suffers because of that wandering.

In the end, it feels like the entirety of the book was a somewhat artificial, slightly soul-less lead up to the decision that Laurence makes. No spoilers, and I like the decision, but the waters are very muddied throughout the book and I wanted them to clear up.
Yes, the book is set in a real time and place, with actual events being involved, but there are DRAGONS in this book for crying out loud. They seem so limited! Like sentient, flying horses– they’re strong, eat a lot, and have reasonable beliefs and feelings. And issues of race and gender are dealt with too.

But it’s so muddied. And I wanted the dragons to get the job done. I’d sure like it if Novik gave Laurence and Temeraire some clear ground to stand on and fight from in the final books of this series.

Because, with all of that said, it’s still a good book. You need to know what came before if you want to understand this novel, but that’s a pleasant experience.

So I recommend this book, but only because it is part of a larger and better whole which I highly, highly recommend.

About jaredgarrett

Jared Garrett is the author of Beat, a YA scifi thriller, and its forthcoming sequel, both published by Future House Publishing. A new series, debuting in January 2016 and also published by Future House, kicks off with Lakhoni, a fast-paced rescue adventure in a world reminiscent of Aztec culture, to be released in January 2016. He self-published Beyond the Cabin, a novelization of his childhood in a cult, in December 2014. Both Beat and Beyond the Cabin were Whitney Award nominees, and his story Song of the Wind, received honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest. In addition to writing, he's spent fifteen years in adult education and is an accomplished public speaker and workshop leader.
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