Book Review: Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik

Posted June 7, 2017 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 9 Comments

Book Review: Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik
Genres: Alternative History, Military Science Fiction
Published by Del Rey Books on March 6, 2012
Pages: 386
Format: eBook
Source: the library

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Also by this author: His Majesty's Dragon, Throne of Jade, Black Powder War, Empire of Ivory, Victory of Eagles, Tongues of Serpents, Blood of Tyrants

Seventh in the Temeraire alternative history military science fiction series and revolving around Temeraire, a black Celestial dragon, and his human partner, Will Laurence.

My Take

Novik slips back to third-person point-of-view with an impersonal narrator describing the various characters and their reactions. And god knows there’s a lot to react to! I suspect this POV contributed to making that question-posing hook at the start the surprise it was what with Novik’s description of Laurence. That boy’s gone native!

I do love how Novik has made Laurence such an honorable man — an overarcing series theme — with such a complex dragon. Poor Temeraire is a dragon with his love for ostentation, treasure, and putting on a good show. He also loves his captain and tries so desperately to understand his reasoning, to want his happiness. Unfortunately, Laurence can be too honorable as witnessed by events on the island. As for Hammond’s hopes for negotiating with the Tswana…good luck, buddy.

Kulingile is the opposite side of the spectrum. Oh, not that. Not like that bitch Iskierka who is in a category all her own and outrageous enough that even Granby threatens her. At last! No, Kulingile is an easygoing sweetheart who doesn’t have the itch for ostentation but does love his “captain”. It makes for some difficult soul-searching for Temeraire!

Novik captures the time period’s customs, manners, attitudes, and mores beautifully, which helps to underscore Laurence’s willfulness and compassion in recognizing that he is in the Wiradjuris’ land. So un-British of him!

There are more than enough plot twists in Crucible of Gold as we hop from disaster to disaster. Novik certainly kept me flipping those pages! That switch-up in Peru on the custom readers would “expect” was a plot twist, and caring for an ayllu is definitely giving Temeraire ideas, lol. Poor Laurence. Then there’s Hammond, for Churki has her own ideas about him and setting up her own ayllu, rofl. Look out Europe, *more laughter*

Then again, that cliffhanger ending…

The Story

It’s critical that the Portuguese ally with the British, if they are to have their support to land British troops in Portugal with a chance at beating Napoleon. But with the Tswana laying waste in Brazilia, the Portuguese may decide to surrender to Napoleon.

That alliance is so critical that the British government is willing to reinstate Laurence as a captain. A reluctant one who states upfront that he will not accept orders that are immoral.

It’s a voyage fraught with disaster, one after another, as they survive explosions, surrender, marooning, and betrayal.

The Characters

The bookish, independent-minded Temeraire, a.k.a., the Most Honorable Lun Tien Xiang, is the most important breed of dragon, a Celestial black with a divine wind capable of destroying most anything. He’s partnered with the honorable Will Laurence, a former captain in the British Aerial Corps who was drummed out for treason and transported to Australia. Gong Su has been with them since Black Powder War, 3, as Temeraire’s chef. The rest of Temeraire’s crew will include Lieutenants Fellowes and Forthing, Ensign Emily Roland, the bookish Sipho who is Demane’s younger brother, the innocent Mr. Ferris who suffered horribly in Victory of Eagles, 5; Gerry is an orphan who becomes a runner; and, Midshipmen Cavendish, Bellew, and Avery.

Iskierka is a fire-breathing Kazilik dragon (Black Powder War, 3) partnered with her adored Captain John Granby. She’s a nasty selfish bitch, and I wouldn’t mind if she died. Her crew includes Mr. Richers as her new first lieutenant; Bardesley is second lieutenant; Pohl is the harness-man; Mallow is the dragon-surgeon; and, Dewey is a former barber.

The traveling troop boards…
Captain Tom Riley‘s HMS Allegiance, a dragon transport. Once, he and Laurence were friends until a final falling-out in Empire of Ivory, 4. Lord Purbeck is still the first lieutenant; Mr. Smythe is the sailing master; Lieutenants George, Burrough, and Paris; able seamen include Yarrow, Mayhew, Yardley, Griggs, Richard Handes is a brute, Crickton, Jergens, Cheltenham, Powton, and Cavendish; Midshipman Darcy; Urquhart is the weak cook’s mate; Carver is Riley’s servant; and, Baggy is one of the ship’s boys. Old Molly and the gunner’s wife with her baby are the only females in the crew. Demane and his dragon, Kulingile (a huge combination of Parnassian and Chequered Nettle); Richard Shipley (his brother is part of the Willow Tree crew) was a tailor and O’Dea, who had been a lawyer (with four wives! Katherine, Felidia, Willis, and Kate), were both convicts working Lawrence and Temeraire’s lands.

Arthur Hammond is the English ambassador to the Chinese court (Throne of Jade, 2).

South America

The Tswana of Africa (Empire of Ivory, 4) have called truce with Napoleon in order to free their families from slavery. Kefentse is the dragon in charge while Mogotsi is the human general. Mrs. Hannah Erasmus whose real name is Lethabo, is in Rio with them. Dikeledi is a pinkish dragon.

Prince João is the hopeful and naive prince regent of Portugal, living in Rio. Dom Soares de Câmara is quite the prideful slaveowner.

Captain Adair Galloway is in command of the Dapple. The crew includes Mr. Rightley, his third lieutenant; Wren is a midshipman; Able Seamen Ewyll, Weskett, and Todd; and, Creed. Blaise will captain the Potentate.

Anahuarque Inca, the Sapa Inca, a.k.a., empress of the Incas and the widow and daughter of the previous emperors, is based in Pusantinsuyo. Ninan is a warrior on attendance of the Sapa Inca. Maila Yupanqui is a feathered dragon ambassador for the Incans and considered the guardian of the royal house. Atahualpa‘s murder and Pahuac‘s suicide are a constant reminder to the dragons.

Palta is a protective dragon encountered outside the village of Quitalén. Supay. Taruca is of the khipukamayuq and owned by Curala, a dragon. Curicuillor, a dragon, is the curaca of Taruca’s clan. Choque-Ocllo and Churki are some of her daughters. Ronpa is one of her sons.

In Talcahuano can be found the governor, Hualpa Uturuncu, a feathered dragon. Manca Copacati is their dragon champion, a venom spitter, who has never been bested in a challenge.

I think an ayllu is a family, a clan, but not necessarily of blood. A curaca is the chief of the ayllu. A khipu is a knotted message.


Shen Li is one of the new breed of dragon, one of four who can fly for great, great distances. She flies out mail and visitors to Laurence, Temeraire, and the men working for them on their new land. The Wiradjuri are one of the native tribes. Bunyips are nasty creatures, very sly…and sentient. The sea serpents are underwater dragons who will do most anything for fish.

Mr. McArthur is the current governor. Again. His wife, Elizabeth is quite the clever one. Captain Ian Rankin, a snobbish jerk, has partnered with Caesar (who’s worse than Iskierka!) and is in charge of the Aerial Corps in Australia. Lieutenants Blincoln and Drewmore are some of the aviators who torment Demane for his partnership with Kulingile, the scorned dragon from (Tongues of Serpents, 6). Dorset is a dragon-surgeon. Lieutenant Paster of the New South Wales Corps is another jerk.

Mrs. Gerald is only respectable by marriage. Miss Hershelm is quite shy. Miss Oakley is another guest. Mrs. Pemberton is a recent widow with a desire to see the world and who will become a chaperone and hostage

Captain Willoughby is the idiot in command of HMS Nereide who may have precipitated war with China (Tongues of Serpents).

An invert is a homosexual.


Wellington is in command of the British Army. Captain Catherine Harcourt is partnered with Lily; she married Riley when he discovered she was pregnant. Tom is their baby son. Jane Roland is Emily’s mother and partnered with Excidium. Candeoris. Laetificat has been posted at Gibraltar but is not doing well. Maximus, upset with Kulingile’s size, is partnered with Captain Berkley; Gaiters is his surgeon. Other dragons who show up in Brazil include Messoria partnered with Captain Sutton, Immortalis partnered with Captain Little, Dulcia partnered with Captain Chenery, and Nitidus partnered with Captain Warren. They left Perscitia behind in England building their pavilions.

Choiseul had been a traitor; Praecursoris his dragon (His Majesty’s Dragon, 1).

The French

Napoleon, the French emperor, is making war in Europe and Brazil. Lien is a brutally intellligent white Imperial dragon who fled China after her treason was discovered (Throne of Jade). She’s now an able advisor to Napoleon and Temeraire’s greatest enemy.

The Triomphe is…
…a French transport captained by M. Thibaux. Her crew includes M. Vercieux, the ship’s master. Genevieve is a young Fleur-de-Nuit who’s rather full of herself with Monsieur De Guignes as her partner; they are both newly honored with the Legion de l’Aile. Ardenteuse is a Chanson-de-Guerre while Piccolo is a Grand Chevalier. Madame Récamier is gracious.


Qian is Temeraire’s mother. It appears that Crown Prince Mianning has useful foresight.

Laurence’s father, Lord Allendale, is devoted to abolition; Riley’s father is a slave-owner in the West Indies.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a pale gold of cloudy skies and complementary hills and rocks that surround a blue-gray inlet with the wrecked pirate ship. It’s Temeraire as the black dragon hovering slightly below the center of the cover, holding a plaque with the series information: a black background, bordered top and bottom in a lighter blue of the water, and the text in gold, as is the embossed title above Temeraire. The author’s name is at the top in a brighter blue.

The title is Laurence’s, Temeraire’s and their companions’ Crucible of Gold, the severe trials they endure throughout their journey.

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9 responses to “Book Review: Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik

  1. I have been enjoying this series quite a lot. Combine history with fantasy AND do a good job of paying attention to the time period’s cultural mores and expectations? Oh, yeah!

  2. Sophia Rose

    I got the first one in the series and look forward to starting it. I love how you describe the book this late in the series with soooo much going on. 🙂

    • Oh, Sophia, there is. And you can’t help but adore Temeraire for his compassion, intellect, and that passionate (and naive) need he has to do right by everyone.

    • I know a series is a pip, Laura, when I start thinking about that first book…and the second and the third, and want to start re-reading right now, lol.

  3. I have LOVED this series and how Novik has constantly changed the settings and upped the stakes. This particular slice of the adventure is great fun – thank you for a review that does justice to the complexity of the world:).

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