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REVIEW: Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik

Dear Ms. Novik,

Though I fretted for almost two years waiting for this book, I can see from your author’s notes that you’ve had a lot to keep you busy having had your own little egg, as the dragons would say, in the interim. Still, what a book you’ve written for us. Excitement, danger, new breeds of dragons, a harrowing journey to and across a new continent for Temerarie and Laurence, Granby and Iskierka, Kulingile and Demane plus 200 sailors and one airsick ambassador – the action zipped along and kept me riveted. It was a wait but the wait was worth it.

Crucible of Gold Naomi NovikWilliam Laurence, formerly a Captain in His Majesty’s Aerial Corps, is skeptical when Arthur Hammond arrives from China with news that the Admiralty has restored Laurence to the Corps and that they are to travel from the valley where he and Temeraire have been establishing a home to Sydney and thence aboard a dragon transport to Brazil. Oh yes, the restoration comes with strings attached and those strings are going to cost dearly.

News has reached England that Napoleon and theTswana Kingdom have formed an alliance. The French will transport the Tswana dragons and warriors from Africa to Brazil and in return, the Tswana will besiege the Portuguese slave holders who hold many of the Tswana people in bondage. Why should the British care? Because Portugal offers a foothold for British troops even now trying to establish an army on the Iberian Peninsula in order to strike at the French. Hence all aid that can be rendered to the Portuguese colony must be done.

So along with Kulingile and Iskierka, returned from India aboard the dragon transport Allegiance and even more insufferable due to having been involved in several prize captures, Temeraire and his ragged crew embark for the trip to South America. But disaster awaits before they reach their destination and in a bitter twist of fate the dragons, remnants of their crew, officers and assorted worthless sailors from the transport find themselves prisoners of the French before being essentially marooned. It takes a stroke of good luck for them to reach the continent where they face an even bigger challenge – the still mighty Incan Empire which is being heavily wooed by the French. Can the British save the day for King and Country? Or will they be lucky just to save even their own lives.

In my review of it, I made no effort to conceal the fact that the last book, “Tongues of Serpents” had large sections which bored me to tears. The slog through the Outback of Australia went on and on and I felt mentally dragged along with them for the whole damn journey. So when this book began with Arthur Hammond landing in Australia after a long journey from China, and the first things he saw were bunyips and more bunyips, I would almost swear I said aloud, “Jesus wept.” Thankfully, the bunyips were soon left behind or I might have lost my mind at the thought of another book filled with them.
Instead, oh joy!, the action soon shifts to the dragon transport and, even better, Rankin and his ilk remain behind.

Kulingile is still growing, Iskierka is even more of a Grand Diva than ever – often driving Granby to want to beat his head against a wall at her antics – and Temeraire is thrilled at the chance to return to active duty – to uphold Laurence’s honor at what they did – and to action – where he might hope to take his share of the prize money and thus be able to outdo Iskierka in finery. A dragon must maintain his dignity and pride, after all.

Whereas the last book was filled with a large section that became old, same old, this one has something new and interesting around every corner. I recall a tidbit from an earlier book, “Victory of Eagles” perhaps, about the Incans and their dragons and had hoped that a future book would feature them. That book is this one and it’s fascinating to see the relationship between those dragons and “their” people. Though the Admiralty, aviators and general populace of Britain might look with some misgivings at British dragons getting any more outlandish notions in their heads. There’s also enough gold and gems there to satisfy even Iskierka’s avariciousness though Granby is less than thrilled at the means and methods she’s willing to employ to obtain them.

But wait, there’s more! A harrowing flight over the Andes Mountains and across the width of the continent tests the men, dragons and ladies to their limits before they finally arrive where they initially set out for. Years ago I read a travel book called “Up the Orinoco” that gives me an idea of what our intrepid band is up against in the jungle. There are enough details here to flesh out horrors yet also neatly skimmed through so that I never felt as if I were stuck swatting the insects, mopping the sweat and darting back from the shoreline to avoid the river crocodiles. Thank you.

There’s also conflict galore. Laurence has to battle with himself about accepting reinstatement and face another who suffered the fallout due to Laurence and Temeraire’s actions. Temeraire and Iskierka alternately huff and flounce over her relish of fighting, her high handed demands and how much she flirts with an Incan dragon. Granby despairs over keeping Iskierka in check before finally laying down the law. The British delegation muddles through learning about how to go on in this strange land before fleeing for their lives and all too soon are faced with the irreconcilable demands of trying to placate the Portuguese in the face of the justness of the demands of the Tswana.

However there are a few things which seem to be picked up and discarded at will or whim. Initially there appears that there will be some continuing friction from the aviator community against Demane for harnessing Kulingile. A budding relationship between Demane and Emily Roland begins only to have the entire thing dropped. And after an initial period of trouble, the 200 some sailors are seldom a real concern for the remainder of the book.

Still, I’m just so delighted not to have anything remotely near a repeat of the last book that reading this one was a joy. Where will everyone go next? Intriguing possibilities are presented and one character is revealed to be far different in position and situation than has been thought up until now. As well, Laurence’s actions might either forge a new and lasting alliance which could help Britain fight on against the French, or alternately this could merely serve to remind the Admiralty of his tendency to free thinking beyond that required of a military captain. Only time, and the next book, will tell. A-

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

22 Comments

  1. Jan
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 05:04:32

    WOOOOOOO. My copy is on their way :) Never expected to see a review for this here, although I did gush for this in the March thread for readers, because like you, I’ve been looking forward to this for a long, long time.

    I’m glad you liked it, although I did actually like the last book, but I was hoping that this one would put the boys back in action.

    3 years ago I would never have believed I could be this excited about a book about dragons, but like I said in the reader thread – best bromance ever :)

  2. Variel
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 06:25:46

    Bunyips, yegads! This one sounds quite interesting.

    Typo in the shape of formally, should be formerly?

  3. Jayne
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 06:29:50

    @Variel: Ye gads! Yes, you are right. Thanks for the keen eye.

  4. Jayne
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 06:36:03

    @Jan: Actually, I think it was your gushing in that thread that let me know it was due out. I’d been checking Novik’s website for a long time until I finally forgot about it anymore. When I saw your comment, I emailed Jane to see if we could still get a copy in time to do a review. Del Ray to the rescue!

    The boys are definitely back in business. And there are new dragons – with feathers! Which makes sense given the images of Quetzalcoatl .

  5. Christine M.
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 06:57:41

    I can’t make sense of this review, but then I’ve never heard of those books before. I take it I better start with the first book in the series, yes?

  6. Tina
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 07:36:49

    Awww, sounds like I need to revisit this series. His Majesty’s Dragon was my first ever kindle freebie back when I got my first kindle. It introduced me to this world and this author and I plowed through the next two books before I got distracted and went on to other things. But it sounds like so much has happened!

  7. Jayne
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 08:15:33

    @Christine M.: This is the seventh book in the series so I can understand how the review wouldn’t make any sense at all. If you click on Naomi Novik’s name in the tags, it should bring up all the past reviews.

  8. Jayne
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 08:17:41

    @Tina: I had to go to the Temeraire wiki to refresh my memory about some past characters and events. Lots of stuff has happened since the first 3 books. Book 4 is especially important in terms of the events in this one.

  9. Jan
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 08:21:11

    It’s the month for long standing series updates really. Seriously, with this and the new Foreigner book coming up, I feel like all I’ll be able to do this month is reread! So much refreshing to do :)

  10. Estara
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 09:07:26

    @Jan: Don’t forget the next Alpha & Omega is coming out as well ^^ . I’ve got the next Foreigner book preordered.

  11. Becca
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 09:12:48

    I bogged down in this series when it started to get political. Maybe I’ll pick up this one and see if getting back into the series is worth it.

  12. Jan
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 09:13:20

    @Estara:

    Oh God, don’t I know it. But I’ve read the Alpha and Omega books so much, I’ve pretty much ingrained them in my memory, so I’m not as worried that I’ll miss the big picture. With Crucible and Intruder there’s so much politics involved (especially Intruder, that Foreigner series is so crazy good with the complicated politics stuff) I almost feel obligated to read them all again, just so I don’t miss the small but significant details. It’s part of the charm of series reading of course, but I’m really, really glad there’s such things as wikis and message boards…

  13. LG
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 09:16:27

    @Christine M.: From what I remember of the series, it’s definitely better to start with the first. I absolutely loved the first book. I think I stopped reading the series after maybe the third or fourth, but this review is causing me to reconsider. Maybe I need to start it up again…

  14. LG
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 09:19:08

    @Estara: More Alpha & Omega?? Hurray! I haven’t been able to tell from my local bookstore whether I missed the release of the latest book or not, because what they’ve got of anything is so spotty, and I kept forgetting to check online.

  15. joanne
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 10:20:12

    @Estara: And can we get a huge sigh that the new Alpha and Omega, Fair Game, has also been published in hardcover so much higher in price. I know this is good for the authors but mid-series change to hardcover is a PIA.

    I’m out of the loop with the Naomi Novik series but I think I’ll skip right to this one. Thanks for the review Jayne.

  16. Kathryn
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 10:52:58

    I really enjoyed the first 2 Temeraire books, but got pretty bored with them after that. Maybe I’ll jump forward to this one…

    What is this Foreigner series everyone is talking about in the comments? Who is the author?

  17. Bren
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 12:41:24

    Yay! So glad to see this good review. I’ve been letting my Temeraires stack up because I hate waiting for “the next one” in the series. I should get to reading them again. Need to get back to my fantasy roots once in a while and a Novik is always a good way to do that.

  18. Jennie
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 15:34:25

    I didn’t read the last one because of the bad reviews, but I may have to pick this one up. Just seeing Iskierka’s name makes me happy – I love that little dragon.

  19. Jan
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 17:42:15

    @Kathryn:

    The Foreigner series is a very political/antropological (alienlogical?) sci-fi series by C.J. Cherryh. I absolutely love it because the main character is very often confused by the very alien concepts, way of thinking and actions, and it was only by reading the latter books I finally really understood what actually happened in the first book. I find this absolutely genius, others find this very frustrating. But for me the most moving parts is all the very small little tidbits about the evolution of the relationship of the human main character and his alien companions. There’s these small moments (sometimes just half a paragraph per book) that completely grab me by the throat.

    Here’s the goodreads link to the entire series: http://www.goodreads.com/series/40807-foreigner

    It might look a little daunting, but she writes in trilogy story-arcs, so that helps :)

    PS: I really miss the goodreads button under the reviews.

  20. Kathryn
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 18:46:14

    @Jan:
    Thanks Jan. Looking at the Goodreads link, I think I read the first trilogy of the series, and didn’t realize it kept going!
    I miss the Goodreads button too…

  21. Dear Author Recommends for March
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 07:55:38

    [...] REVIEW: Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik [...]

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    Dec 14, 2012 @ 10:02:10

    [...] Crucible of Gold – Naomi Novik B+ (review) [...]

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