Top positive review
Better But Not Her Best
Reviewed in the United States on August 3, 2011
Although I had kept up with this series as new installments appeared, I was so discouraged by Novik's spotty performance in some of the books, and by the crushingly bad early reviews of ToS that I gave it a pass until now. I have to say, while I have a few quibbles with the work, it was a real pleasure to read, and marked a more successful return to what Novik does best, which is develop her very interesting characters against equally interesting events. In this book, the dragons get all the worthwhile character development, although Novik does a pretty nice job of depicting the pre-contact Australian landscape as well. However, and I am reluctant to (yet again) have to devote the bulk of this review to the "howevers", I am haunted by the painful and painfully obvious omissions in the work. I have said it before and I will say it again: Novik has a truly magical premise here but consistently fails to do justice to the possibilities. In some of the less successful Temeraire books, I had the feeling Novik was either being rushed to deadline or that her success enabled her to ignore editorial advice and direction. Either way, there was some sloppy, dull, and poorly plotted writing that failed to do justice to her very interesting storyline and characters. That sloppiness is evident here, although it hides well against the epic chase across the Australian outback in search of a stolen and precious dragon egg. Novik is frequently guilty of deus ex machina events and endings, which themselves are not so much improbable as simply sprung naked as a jaybird upon the unsuspecting and unprepared reader. [**spoiler alert**] The discovery of a Chinese controlled international smugglers' port is an excellent case in point. That port need not have been a surprise to the reader, who could have enjoyed watching the inevitable collision approach whilst enjoying a cleverly constructed subplot centering around the port denizens. Never give up a chance to explore the world of smugglers and pirates! Laurence, in this book, is a brooding enigma. While he seems to come to a crossroads of sorts by the end of the novel, we are given very little of his internal dialogue, and any new reader could be forgiven for writing him off as a boring plot device. His letters home to Jane or his estimable mother would be, should be, a rich source of character development, as could be a thread examining Le Tien's experience as Bonaparte's puppeteer, or the Bunyip's experience of European explorers. Novik practically throws these opportunities away. My hope is, yet again, that Novik slow down, take her time, and open up the hearts and minds at her disposal. This is a glorious canvas, and deserves something much better than a paint-by-numbers, "dragon-lite" approach.