Book Review: Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik

Posted April 28, 2017 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 2 Comments

Book Review: Tongues of Serpents 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.

Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik
Genres: Military Science Fiction, History
Published by Del Rey Books on July 13, 2010
Pages: 369
Format: eBook
Source: the library

Buy on Amazon
Also by this author: His Majesty's Dragon, Throne of Jade, Black Powder War, Empire of Ivory, Victory of Eagles, Crucible of Gold, Blood of Tyrants

Sixth in the Temeraire historical military science fiction series and revolving around a Celestial black dragon and his captain, Will Laurence, with this story taking place in the Outback of Australia with three very different baby dragons.

My Take

The primary theme is the selfishness of government, whether it’s the institution or/and individual politicians. They’ll all use and abuse their citizens. They don’t care about the other side or whether they’re being fair. Nor do they care about the realities on the ground or how their demands will impact the people or soldiers who are actually there.

Either way, both Temeraire and Laurence have opportunities to convey their particular thoughts, feelings, and opinions, etc., which indicates that Tongues of Serpents uses a third-person subjective point-of-view.

And they perceive that Australia is a total mess. The initial concept of the transported felons serving their time and then making a new life was good, but it was soon corrupted to benefit the soldiers and their friends, with some of the “colonials” concerned and others accepting it as typical of “these sorts”. Yes, it’s part of the governmental system of abuse. They got what they wanted. Who cares about the end result?

Rankin isn’t much better, mess-wise. He’s so “privileged” and “obviously knows all about bringing dragons about” and is totally at odds with Temeraire. Yay! It’ll piss you off when you read of the deformed egg’s hatching, and you’ll cheer for Demane when he takes it on. Until Kulingile matures…then you’ll wanna kill someone! All this hypocrisy is enough to make you sick.

As for the politics. Oh, lord. Well, nothing has changed between then and now, anyway. The land politics are bad enough, but as Temeraire notes, why do the British insist on having everything, especially when it’s half a world away? I’m also on Temeraire’s side when he notes that the British sent him away, wanting nothing to do with him whereas the Chinese were very welcoming and generous. Ahem.

LOL. You can’t help but appreciate the cleverness of the Chinese way of war. Quite tidy…for them. Not at all for the British.

A secondary issue…I’m not sure if it’s a theme or not…is how decisions made at one time can have repercussions down the road, which at the time seemed like such a good idea, for example, that Prince Yongxing was dead. Now…not so much.

Temeraire’s understanding of Laurence’s depression deepens as he understands in even greater depth how their decision to share the cure changed Laurence’s life. It certainly ties in with Laurence’s decision at the end! And I can’t wait to see what happens in Crucible of Gold.

The Story

Convicted of treason despite their heroic defense against Napoleon’s invasion of England, Temeraire and Capt. Will Laurence have been transported to a prison colony in distant Australia — and into a hornet’s nest of fresh complications.

The colony is in turmoil after the overthrow of military governor William Bligh — a.k.a., Captain Bligh, late of HMS Bounty. And when Bligh tries to enlist them in his bid to regain office, Temeraire and his captain are caught in the middle of a political power struggle. Their only chance to escape the fray is accepting a mission to blaze a route through the forbidding Blue Mountains and into the interior of Australia.

But the theft of a precious dragon egg turns their expedition into a desperate recovery operation — leading to a shocking discovery and a dangerous new complication in the global war between Britain and Napoleon.

The Characters

Temeraire is a black Celestial dragon with a divine wind capable of destroying most anything. He’s quite the learned dragon with a love for philosophy and math and a tremendous loyalty to Captain Will Laurence. Temeraire’s crew includes Emily Roland; Lieutenant Forthing is an idiot, but the best of the lot; and, Dorset is a dragon surgeon.

Captain John Granby is partnered with Iskierka, a very selfish young dragon who does adore her captain. (Bezaid and Sherazde were her parents.) The bookish Sipho and the independent and angry Demane are African boys Laurence brought back in Empire of Ivory, 4, and are part of Iskierka’s crew.

(In 1819, Sipho Tsuluka Dlamini published An Inland Journey in Terra Australis in the Year 1809 as a result of their travels.)

Tharkay is half-British and half-Nepalese, not accepted by either side, and whom we first met in Black Powder War, 3; he has been in and out of the stories ever since.

Captain Rankin is back for another try at a dragon, Wringe and Arkady‘s egg in particular — neither Temeraire nor Laurence are happy about this after the way Rankin treated poor Levitas. Caesar turns out to be even worse in temperament than Iskierka. Whining, bitching, bragging, complaining… Paul Widener is Caesar’s signal-ensign. Third Lieutenant Derrow. Lieutenants Fellowes, Blincoln is an idiot, Drewmore, and Forthing intend to try for the deformed egg (a cross between a Chequered Nettle and a Parnassian) who will become Kulingile. Later, Widdlow and Flowers will be whining on about Kulingile.

Captain Tom Riley commands the HMS Allegiance which brought Temeraire and Laurence, et al., to Australia. Riley is married and has a baby with Captain Catherine Harcourt who is partnered with Lily. Under order of Commodore Rowley, the HMS Nereide, captained by Nesbit Willoughby who’s just as bad as her last captain, and Captain Tomkinson who commands the Otter are to take the port.

Captain William Bligh, late of HMS Bounty, is the now-deposed governor of Australia. Seems he’s playing the same tricks on Australia as he did on his crew. Macquarie will eventually show up to replace Bligh. John MacArthur is the leader of the rebels and has become the Colonial Secretary. Elizabeth is his wife.

The Rum Corps is…
…the not-so-polite name for the New South Wales Corps, the Australian military force. Major Johnston is in command. Lieutenant Agreuth has quite the gutter mouth.

The crew taken into the Outback
Jonas Green has some bulk and was the only one not drunk. Robert Maynard has a little skill at masonry. Jack Kelly/Telly claims some skill with a pick and had trained as a carpenter. O’Dea is an older convict, an Irish lawyer taken up during the troubles in ’98. Richard Shipley is a younger convict. Hob Wessex, Blackwell, Jemson, and Carter are more of the crew.

The Larrakia are…
Tharunka‘s (the third baby dragon, a Yellow Reaper) destination after being kidnapped. After her journey, she can now speak most of the languages in Australia besides English and Chinese. Jia Zhen is the chief of the Chinese trading outpost. Lamoorar is a young man interested in Roland, which ticks Demane off no end. Lung Shen Li and Lung Shen Gai are two of four newly bred dragons who can fly GREAT distances. Galandoo is a native.

Some of the smugglers include Mr. Jacob Chukwah of New York, Señor Robaldo of Lisbon shares some commonalties with Laurence, David Wright has information on what the Africans are doing, and Jing Du is the name of one merchant house.

Bunyips are nasty creatures, very sly…and sentient. The sea serpents, underwater dragons, are quite useful allies. Shipping. Destroying ships. Ayers Rock, Uluru, makes a good meeting point in the Outback.

Back in England
Jane Roland has been elevated to a peerage and quite shocked at how intelligent the ladies are. She rides Excidium. Perscitia is pleased to write that they’ve finished the pavilion and begun a second. Requiescat is eating like a glutton. Majestatis suggested hiring out for carting work, as the government is getting stinky about the promises they made the unharnessed dragons. Gladius and Cantarella have fallen out. Queritoris is still complaining.

Back in Istanbul
Avram Maden is a merchant whom we met in Black Powder War, 3; he and some associates are interested in outfitting privateers. His daughter, Sara, has had her first child.

Back in France
Lung Tien Lien is the white Celestial who fled China in Throne of Jade, 2, and now advises Napoleon.

Back in China
Arthur Hammond is the British envoy to China we first encountered in Throne of Jade, 2.

The Africans…
…the Tswana, have allied with Napoleon and have fixated on plantations and slaves in Brazil.

The Cover and Title

The background of the cover is the barren waves of white sand of the Outback. In the center is an entwining of two dragons, one gold and one black, around a pocket watch in the center of which is a ship in full sail on a frothing sea. The author’s name (at the top) and the title (at the bottom) are in red with the series information in black to the right of the dragons’ tails.

The title refers to those terrifying Tongues of Serpents.

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


2 responses to “Book Review: Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik

Leave a Reply