Friday, April 2, 2010

Naomi Novik - Temeraire, Throne of Jade and Black Powder War

Just a warning before I begin: This will be bad. (And I have been instructed to add that this text is a spoiler alert. Skip to the last two paragraphs if you wish to be convinced of these novels' terribleness)

For the ones that are not familiar with the story, here's a summary. Since the story is quite plain I will just do it myself. In Temeraire, Captain William Laurence of H.M.S. Reliant is swept from his naval career when he captures a rare dragon egg. The plot is set during the Napoleon war and in this version of history, dragons serve as a sort of Air Force. A good idea that made me continue to read the two following novels, hoping for some more interesting originality. But nay.

In the second novel, Throne of Jade, the dragon Temeraire (a true hell to write that name) and his now truly devoted handler/rider/ friend Captain Laurence goes to China to see the emperor and negotiating keeping Temeraire, something I thought would be super cool, but then... mostly the novel is spent travelling on a huge transporting boat. Do you know how long it takes to sail from Britain to China? Obviously it takes about two thirds of a novel. That is a lot of boring reading and stalling in the storyline. Travel diaries are not interesting even if a dragon is positioned on the deck or if the customs of the Chinese are strange and foreign. Even the attempts on Laurence's life and a sea-monster attack is boring. Coming to china they wait some more, get attacked and finally the dragon Temeraire gets tired like the rest of us readers and just kill the motherfucking prince Ching-chong someting that was so obviously the bad guy all along.

In Black Powder War they travel some more after the emperor of China adopted Laurence (the easy way of solving the ownership of a royal dragon, such as Temeraire of course is. Yawn, it took forever for the characters to figure it out even though I understood it the first time they pondered the dragon's race which was in the middle of book one). They have orders to retrieve some dragon eggs under mysterious orders from Istanbul. But the now vengeful dragon of the deceased china-prince is determined to destroy everything Temeraire loves, including Britain. So more stalling in Istanbul before finally making up their mind to just run/fly away. Why the hundred-page wait? And.. I have not bothered reading more as they got stalled again somewhere in Austria. Again.

These novels are as you might suspect by now extremely predictable and slow. The story is linear without
building any sympathy for the characters and ignoring any descriptions or minor details that may endear the reader to the story. The only character that gains sympathy is the dragon Temeraire since he is just as impatient, ready for some action, intelligent and reflected as the readers themselves. The other characters are stuck in formalities and dinner parties that drag on forever.

I sorely wish that somewhere along the first waiting at Gibraltar, Temeraire and Laurence turn into pirates and escape the bureaucracy. Loyalty to a crown that hates your guts is not worth it. Laurence is just mellow and too much a good boy. The good captain even finds it radical to escape from their captors or inquire in the mysteries presented. The solutions come to him, persistent, rather than he, the supposedly protagonist tries to find them. Glad I stopped reading when I did.

One other thing that bothers me immensely is the lack of emotion. Not a single tear shed, and I cry fairly easily. The language and style is unmoving. Even when a ten-year old crew member dies it just passes with a formal letter to his mother that Laurence regrets having to write. They loose one or two members during each novel, neither which seems sad or moves me. Maybe it is that the author does not manage to create emotional ties to the characters, forgetting or choosing not to let the reader get to know them in depth. The presence of formality again hindering the quality of the story.

To sum up: Good idea that is badly executed. Boring and tedious, packed with formality and
bureaucracy that stall the story. The only way that this particular time-period gets exiting to read about is a narrative with loads of poetic details, breaking of rules and formality and loads of rebellious swagger. In other words; do not read, pick up some good war-memoirs or something more intriguing instead.

Yours cruelly, Yakoni

No comments:

Post a Comment