Book Review - Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik

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While I enjoyed the first volume of the Temeraire series, "His Majesty's Dragon", I thought the subsequent novels really dropped in quality.
It got to the point that after the last novel, "Empire of Ivory", I considered dropping the series since I was discouraged about how events were progressing.
After the first novel, I wanted to further read about Napoleon's attempts to invade Great Britain, as that was the most gripping conflict in the novel.
Instead in "Throne of Jade", "Black Powder War" and "Empire of Ivory", Temeraire and Laurence are traveling the world, engaging more in events I would consider to be subplots than furthering the main conflict: the Napoleonic War between Britain and France.
That's not to say, there hasn't been plot points essential to the story in the travelogue trilogy that renders these books unnecessary.
There just isn't enough movement in the main conflict in these books.
Now in "Victory of Eagles", Naomi Novik has shifted the setting back wholly to Britain and Scotland.
And to make this even better: Napoleon finally invades.
This immensely helps the storyline, making "Victory of Eagles" the best Temeraire novel since "His Majesty's Dragon".
Unfortunately, the ending of "Victory of Eagles" suggests to me that the series may go on indefinitely.
An immediate resolution of the Napoleonic War does not appear to be at hand.
I'd like to see Novik wrap the series up, but I'm not holding out much hope.
Still, she has captured the best elements in the series here, while expanding the emotional depth displayed by Laurence and Temeraire.
At the end of "Empire of Ivory", Laurence and Temeraire had committed a treasonous act when they supplied Napoleon with a cure for the sickness plaguing his dragons.
Now, Laurence finds himself locked away in a British naval vessel's brig, so his location will remain a secret from Temeraire.
Not surprisingly, he's been convicted of treason and sentenced to hang, though not imminently as the British are keeping him alive in order to keep Temeraire in check.
Meanwhile, Temeraire is at the breeding grounds, suffering from depression and loneliness about his situation.
Soon Napoleon invades and gains a foothold in Britain, shattering Temeraire's bout of self-pity.
But bad news follows as Temeraire mistakenly believes that Laurence has been tragically killed during the course of the invasion.
With a burning desire to now fight the French, Temeraire organizes the unharnessed dragons of the breeding ground into an army, and strikes out after the invaders.
Much to both their delights, Laurence and Temeraire are soon reunited and quickly enlisted to help defend against Napoleon's march on London.
But after a crushing defeat by the French, Temeraire and Laurence must flee to Scotland with the remainder of the English army.
There they hatch a plan to win the country back from the French and capture Napoleon in the process.
Novik has delivered a peach of a novel, returning to the form that made "His Majesty's Dragon" so enjoyable.
The intense battles are great and immersive, while the guerrilla warfare with dragons is a very interesting idea.
Interestingly, the characters have become much more introspective in "Victory of Eagles"; Laurence in particular must learn to live under the huge stigma of being a traitor.
He finds himself essentially dispossessed of his career, reputation and wealth, leaving him alone with only his conscience.
Eventually, he even battles for that before realizing that it is his last and most valuable possession and should not be so easily given away.
"Victory of Eagles" explores the sometimes bitter consequences of making a hard moral decision, and this elevates the novel in my estimation.
Novik doesn't let her characters get off easy, and that makes the consequences even more realistic and intriguing.
Last Word: "Victory of Eagles" is a successful return to the charm and magic of the first book.
But it is also a more mature work in which the characters confront deeper and darker emotional and moral issues.
Coupled with the overall awesomeness of Napoleon fighting a pitched campaign on British soil, "Victory of Eagles" really pulls out all the stops in providing a rip-roaring adventure that has substance.
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