I had some concerns after the last book in the series that Naomi Novik had lost touch with the story that she was telling and instead had decided to do an incomplete travelog of exotic locations around the world. The fourth book had an ending that packed a powerful wallop but the rest of the book was so mediocre that it felt more like a summary of a book than a book itself.
With Victory of Eagles Naomi Novik has redeemed herself. Lawrence is imprisoned for treason, Temeraire is exiled to the dragon breeding grounds where he is treated like a beast and given very little freedom. Meanwhile Napoleon, with the tactical aid of Lien — the albino dragon from China — leads an assault into the very heart of England with the aim of capturing London itself.
This is the darkest times have been for Temeraire and Lawrence and the black cloud of depression hangs heavily on much of the book. Coupled with the looming threat of Napolean’s invasion that the British seem wholly unprepared to thwart and the prospects of the draconic dynamic duo have never been so grim.
There are hopeful moments, throughout, and the accomplishments of both sides of the war are more than slightly spectacular.
Novik is a brilliant writer who can talk about dragons, culture and war with such confidence that it leaves little question in the readers mind that all of this could be real.
This is a fascinating world, filled with fascinating characters acting out a gripping history wrapped in fluid and smooth prose that hearkens back to the stories of Hornblower. Indeed much of the feel of these books reminds me of C. S. Forester’s work, I think that model is a definite homage with Captain Lawrence being a Hornblower-inspired character, but I think more than the story or character the writing style is what sells this as an epic adventure of British history — with dragons — Novik simply writes like Forester, with all the praise and damnation that implies. I love Foresters ability to spin detail and emotion into an adventure that feels fantastic while being completely realistic. Therefore I have no problem with Novik’s ability to imitate that same feel and language while telling a story that is actually all fantasy and making it feel so completely realistic.