Book Review: Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik

Posted March 17, 2017 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 5 Comments

Book Review: Empire of Ivory 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.

Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik
Genres: Military, Alternative History
Published by Del Rey Books on September 25, 2007
Pages: 404
Format: eBook
Source: the library

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

Fourth in the Temeraire alternative historical military-fantasy series and revolving around a Chinese Celestial fighting dragon and his British partner, Captain Will Laurence, and using Laurence’s perspective with a third-person point-of-view. This story ranges from England to South Africa.

My Take

The overall theme is one of equality — the lack of it for dragons. A lack that Temeraire is determined to repair. Novik makes good use of the “blindness” of the Admiralty to show us how poorly those in charge regard one of their greatest strengths in this war, just part of a minor theme of honor, which truly comes through at the end.

I do love how his experiences in China changed Temeraire’s thinking — and Captain Laurence’s. Although, the captain is much more aware of the obstacles facing Temeraire. One of the reasons I adore this series is discovering what Temeraire does next to fulfill his dreams, lol.

Novik also gains revenge for the North American continent and its Indians when the American dragon brings its germs to the Olde Worlde. Yet more revenge comes when Laurence and company don’t consider that the African natives might be more advanced than the Europeans had thought. History changes yet more when you learn what happens to the European colonies in Africa.

I also enjoy how well Novik combines draconic characteristics with their intelligence. Temeraire can be so childish and mature at the same time. Novik also keeps the mores and manners of the time intact. I do love how she “hides” the female partners of the Longwings and then makes use of it to rouse “horror” and consternation…oh, my! As for Laurence’s concerns about honor and Captain Harcourt, well, he gets a lesson in aviator independence, lol.

The ferals add amusing, if frustrating conflict for the Air Corps. A much sadder conflict is that between Laurence and Riley, for Riley’s prejudiced attitude to the reverend and his family. More bigotry is confronted as the Allegiance‘s crew and passengers discover how intelligent the dragons are as they discuss mathematics and science on the voyage. At least, it’s an enjoyable knockdown. More laughter comes from that greedy Iskierka’s actions, as she ensures her own income by taking French ships as prizes. She doesn’t see why navy captains get to take prizes and she doesn’t, lol. She’s also been “outfitting” her captain to look quite “fine” *more laughter*

The Story

It’s a disaster, as Temeraire and the ferals cross the seas with those they’ve rescued from Napoleon’s armies. One that becomes worse when no dragon comes forth from the British Isles to aid them in their escape. Yet worse when Laurence and Temeraire learn the tragedy which has struck His Majesty’s Aerial Corps.

An epidemic is raging through the dragons with no known cure, and only Temeraire and the ferals are uninfected — and are the only airborne defense against the bolder French sorties.

The only hope, a slim one, lies in Temeraire and his captain, Will Laurence, retracing their voyage to China, to discover why Temeraire appears to be immune.

The Characters


Temeraire is a black Celestial dragon with a divine wind who adores mathematics, writing, and literature and can’t wait to tell his friends of the wonders of China and dragon equality. Prince Captain William Laurence is his beloved partner. Lord Allendale is Laurence’s snotty father. The pregnant Elizabeth is wife to Laurence’s eldest brother.

Temeraire’s crew includes…
Calloway, the gunner; Allen and Harley are the young lookouts; Lieutenants Henry Ferris and Riggs; Ensigns Dyer, Harley, and Emily Roland (Jane’s daughter) are runners; Keynes is their surgeon who insists on tending to the sick dragons (Dorset will replace him); Gong Su is the Chinese cook Temeraire likes so well; Turner is the signal-officer; Fellowes is the ground-crew master, Winston and Porter are harness-men; Blythe is the armorer’s mate; and, retired Admiral Gordon’s youngest grandson will become a third cadet.

Iskierka is…
…the new baby dragon, a fire-breathing, demanding, aggressive Kazilik, they rescued in Turkestan with First Lieutenant John Granby her new captain (Black Powder War, 3). Her new crew will include Lieutenants Lithgow as his first and Harper (who will also be captain of the riflemen) as his second and Row will be captain of the bellmen.

The twenty ferals from Turkestan include…
…their leader, Arkady; Gherni, a blue-and-white with the complexion of china, is the smallest; Wringe, a dark grey; Hertaz is wily; and, Lester is motley-colored. Tharkay is half-British and half-Nepalese, not accepted by either side, but important as one who can communicate in Durzagh, the language of the ferals. Dunne, a rifleman, and Wickley, a bellman, have been assigned to the ferals.

His Majesty’s Aerial Corps

Admiral Jane Roland (Laurence’s lover before he left in Throne of Jade, 2) is partnered with the sick Excidium. Admiral Lenton mourns his dragon, Obversaria. Dragon surgeons include Dr. Harrow and Dr. Wapping. Other dead dragons include Inlacrimas, Minacitus, and Conterrenis, shot by Gardenley.

Laggan, Inverness-shire is…
…the training camp in Scotland where Celeritas instructs the new dragons. Captain Wexler is the commander of the fort.

Other dragons in His Majesty’s Aerial Corps include…
Victoriatus with Richard Clark as his depressed captain; Sanderson weeps over Animosia; Felicita is a Yellow Reaper who thinks she’s good for another egg whose captain is Brodin; Prolixus; Laudabilis; Repugnatis; Portland is in Gibraltar; Laetificat; Volly is off to Gibraltar with her Captain James; and, Auctoritas and Caelifera are from Dover.

Temeraire builds a pavilion for the sick dragons which include Celoxia partnered with Captain Meeks. Mr. Royle is the architect. Cutter.

Grenville is First Lord of the Admiralty; his brother is the prime minister. Lord Nelson comes to support Laurence. Lord Mulgrave becomes the new First Lord. He, along with the unimpressed Admiral Gambier, Ward, and Lord Palmerston, is part of the board of inquiry, and they’ve come up with a hideous plan along with Nelson. Mr. Portis is the officer of the watch in the London covert.

The pretentious Albert Ferris, Lord Seymour, is Henry’s brother; Lady Catherine Seymour is their mother. Richard is another brother, an army captain. Colonel Prayle is one of the guests at Heytham Abbey.

Lady Wrightley is an intimate of Laurence’s mother’s. Miss Lucas is a guest at Wrightley’s ball. Lord Broughton is with the Foreign Office. Arthur Hammond was the duplicitous diplomat who traveled to China with Laurence and Temeraire in Throne of Jade. Edith Woolvey, née Galman, Laurence’s ex-fiancée, has delivered her first child.

The event is put on by…
…Lord Allendale with Lord Wilberforce, the abolitionist. Attendees included the Marchioness of Carstoke, the bigoted Mr. Bathurst, and the Reverend Josiah Erasmus.

English dragon breeds include…
Longwings who will only accept female partners. Regal Coppers are another heavy-combat dragon, Yellow Reapers are common, Pascal Blues, and Winchesters breed quickly.

Capetown, Africa is…

…a British colony with Lieutenant-General Grey the acting governor. The Earl of Caledon is to take over as governor when he arrives. Mr. Rietz is one of the chief men of Swellendam, a village of the Cape. Cape Coast is a British port; its only survivors — George Case of Liverpool and his partner, David Miles, are slavers — are quite vindictive.

The interior
Demane and his little brother, Sipho Tsuluka Dlamini, aid the dragons. Nemachaen is their dog.

Mosi oa Tunya is…
…the ceremonial capital of the Tswana, a blended tribe of smaller kingdoms who banded together for protection against raids and slavers. King Mokhachane, a female dragon, rules. His eldest son is Moshueshue. They are angry with the theft of their plants AND of their children who have been taken into slavery. Kefentse is one of the dragons, and Hannah’s, Lethabo’s, great-grandfather. (Hannah was named Lethabo before she was taken into slavery and is revered by the Tswana.)

The voyage is…
…aboard Captain Tom Riley‘s ship, the Allegiance (Throne of Jade), a dragon transport. Riley and Laurence had served together in the navy, but they disagree vehemently about slavery. Lieutenant Franks commands the boat’s crew. Owens is the deck officer. Mr. Britten is the official chaplain, an alcoholic. Raclef is the ship’s surgeon. Dragon Surgeon Keynes travels with them as senior surgeon in charge of finding the cure.

Catherine Harcourt (Lieutenant Jack Harcourt, on Flutaire, had been her father) and her acid-spurting Lily with Hobbes as her first lieutenant, Tooke is one of her runners, Kettering is a rifleman, Larring is the ground-crew master, Pratt, Peck is a harness-man, and Waley is her surgeon.

Maximus is partnered with Captain Berkley with Gaiters as his surgeon. Dulcia, a Yellow Reaper, is partnered with Captain Chenery with Alden as one of his runners and Bailes is a harness-man. Nitidus is a Pascal Blue partnered with Captain Warren. Immortalis is partnered with Captain Little; his crew includes Hyatt, a wingman, and Lieutenant Libbley. Messoria is a Yellow Reaper partnered with Captain Sutton. Martin is someone’s crewman.

The Reverend Josiah Erasmus, a former slave from Jamaica and a man of the Lunda, will accompany Laurence to Africa. His wife is Hannah, and they have two daughters. They will take over the London Missionary Society in Capetown.

The Prussians are…

…British allies in the war against Napoleon. General Kalkreuth is a passenger aboard Arkady. Major Seiberling is now the senior Prussian. Eroica was one of the Prussian dragons who ridiculed Temeraire and his ideas.

The French

Napoleon Bonaparte is winning in Europe. Lung Tien Lien, an unlucky white Celestial, hates Temeraire and Laurence for events in Throne of Jade and escaped to France where she advises Napoleon. Termeraire is ticked that she has convinced Napoleon to widen the streets so she and other dragons can stroll; Napoleon has also built her a pavilion. The former Chinese envoy, De Guignes, visits Laurence. Validius, a Petit Chevalier, has a notion about cooking. Accendare leads the formation to escort Laurence and Temeraire. Other French dragon breeds include Chasseur-Vocifère, Pou-de-Ciel, Plein-Vite, and Petit Chevalier.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a textured and bright royal blue with a golden dragon entwined around a gold pocket watch with its glass front displaying the fort’s tower with pink clouds in a blue sky. The author’s name is at the top in white while the title is in a soft grass green outlined in black at the bottom. The series information is white with a dark blue background at the very bottom.

The title refers to Africa, the Empire of Ivory.

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5 responses to “Book Review: Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik

  1. And I’ll add my recommendation to Kathy’s, Laura! This is a delightful, intelligent series that not only goes on developing and changing with each book – but also offers interesting insights into the nature of equality throughout.

    A great review, Stormi:)

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