No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Thursday, March 21, 2019

2019/29: Crucible of Gold -- Naomi Novik

"... untrained intermediaries! A violently quarrelsome dragon, a governess, and a fifteen-year-old girl! And I must credential them — I hope no-one in England may hear of it." [p. 210]

In which Temeraire and Laurence go to South America.
The novel opens with the arrival of Hammond in the pleasant valley where Laurence and Temeraire have settled. Hammond brings news: Laurence has been reinstated, and please would he and Temeraire go to Brazil, which is under attack by the Tswana, and broker a peace?

Laurence accepts, not without misgivings: he has come to enjoy 'peace and honest labour, without the clinging stink of murder and treachery'. The company take ship, heading east across the Pacific on the Allegiance with Captain Riley, an old friend of Laurence's. After considerable setbacks (and the welcome appearance of the perfidious French) they reach the west coast of South America, and the Incan Empire.

This is an Incan Empire in which Pizarro was, to say the least, unsuccessful: however, in an echo of our own history, the population has been decimated by European sicknesses. The dragons, immune, are extremely protective of their human charges, and keen to acquire more. And the Sapa Inca, ruler of the Empire, is clever and ambitious, and has a counsel of draconic advisors and a vast treasury. And Laurence and company haven't even reached Brazil yet ...

There's also a strong flavour of O'Brian here, possibly because the first third of the novel takes place primarily at sea or on small islands. I was reminded of The Nutmeg of Consolation, and also Desolation Island (note to self: reread O'Brian some time). I think I prefer my travelogues with a nautical aspect.

This is perhaps the most feminist of the sequence: certainly the one where the female characters (not just the humans) have most effect. Iskierka is a delight (though sometimes thoughtless): Mrs Pemberton, Emily and Lesotho all have major roles in the story. And Laurence is thinking more about ownership, slavery and protection: there is a pleasing exchange between Laurence and Temeraire in which the former realises that yes, for practical purposes he does belong to Temeraire rather than vice versa. Meanwhile, Temeraire is considering whether he could 'look after' more men than he could carry at one time.

I enjoyed this one immensely. Onwards!

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