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Tongues of Serpents
Naomi Novik
Del Rey / HarperVoyager, 288 / 348 pages

Tongues of Serpents Tongues of Serpents
Naomi Novik
Naomi Novik was born in New York in 1973. A first-generation American, she was raised on Polish fairy tales, Baba Yaga, and Tolkien. She studied English Literature at Brown University and did graduate work in Computer Science at Columbia University before leaving to participate in the design and development of the computer game Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide. She decided to try her hand at novels. Temeraire / His Majesty's Dragon was her first.

Naomi Novik Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Empire of Ivory
SF Site Review: Empire of Ivory
SF Site Review: Throne of Jade and Black Powder War
SF Site Review: His Majesty's Dragon
SF Site Review: His Majesty's Dragon
SF Site Review: Temeraire / His Majesty's Dragon

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

Naomi Novik's Temeraire series of novels about an alternate Napoleonic Wars in which sentient dragons serve as a sort of air force for the contending nations has been justly very popular. It began as a somewhat light adventure with dragons, but as the books continue they have grown a bit darker. This version of history is diverging to a considerable extent from our own, not surprising given the dragons, except that the opening situation implied a great deal of convergent history. A critical concern is slavery, not just in the treatment of dragons but in that of men, as a previous African sequence dramatized. The role and virtue of England also comes into question (quite reasonably, except that Novik seems to cut her Napoleon rather more slack than I think the historical, at least, individual deserved). At any rate, in the sixth novel, Tongues of Serpents, Temeraire and Laurence have been transported to Australia (Laurence having been convicted of treason). Laurence remains loyal to England, with misgivings, and Temeraire of course is utterly loyal to Laurence.

Australia has recently undergone a sort of revolution, with the local landowners deposing the cruel and incompetent Governor Bligh (of the Bounty, yes). But this cannot stand, and Bligh angles for restoration to his seat, while the new leaders of the colony, who face hanging when the proper British authorities arrive, hint at help from Laurence and Temeraire. The whole situation is insupportable, especially to one of Laurence's temperament. But his real duty seems now to accompany an expedition into the interior to try to establish a new nesting ground for dragons, in particular as they have custody of three eggs, each nearly ready to hatch.

So the bulk of the book follows this expedition, which ends up extended rather beyond their original intent. All the eggs eventually hatch, but in each case a certain disappointment (at least so far as the Navy's expectations goes) attends the dragon's choice of human to which to bond. And one egg is stolen, which causes the unusual extension of the journey -- all the way across Australia, by the end. On the way they encounter a great deal of hardship: sandstorms, unfriendly natives, even bunyips. And by the end, of course, further discoveries are made, changing again Laurence's understanding of the greater dragon society (and that of other magical creatures), and changing the political landscape as well. Laurence seems poised perhaps to break completely with his home country -- we will have to wait for further volumes to see where that goes.

The books remain very enjoyable, though for me Tongues of Serpents dragged in places. But the new political and social understanding, and the suggestion of further upheavals, give the books considerable interest, beyond the still quite enjoyable adventure aspects, as well as the satisfying portrayals of the main characters, Temeraire in particular. I'll definitely be looking forward the next book as eagerly as I awaited this one.

Copyright © 2010 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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