After over a year, I stumbled across the last three Temeraire books while browsing Chapters and realized the time has come to pick up this series and put it to rest. Crucible of Gold, the seventh instalment in these adventures, sees Laurence and Temeraire reinstated in the Aerial Corps for an urgent mission to Brazil. Napoleon has a shaky alliance with the Tswana, and they are raiding the Portuguese colonies there for their enslaved kin. Along the way, however, Laurence, Temeraire, and their party are sidetracked by shipwreck, the French, and the Inca.
As with many long-running series, it becomes difficult to recap and review these books without sounding like a broken record. Worldbuilding, characterization, blah blah blah—it’s all here. Overall, I definitely liked this over the last book, because it doesn’t drag. Novik constantly changes up the game, raises the stakes, and generally keeps us guessing as to how this will all work out. A little bit of foreshadowing at the beginning warns us that even once Laurence and Temeraire reach Brazil, they aren’t just going to let the Tswana slaves remain in bondage to the Portuguese—some kind of abolition is on the table, even if it makes their Portuguese allies unhappy.
Fans of the series (and I assume that makes up the large majority of the people who survive to book 7) will love the character development here. The relationship (if that’s the right word) between Temeraire and Iskierka deepens. Granby undergoes a dramatic change in fortunes. We even learn a little more about Gong Su’s role beyond cook and camp hanger-on.
Similarly, I like Novik’s portrayal of the Incan empire. In particular, she takes the time to show us the Sapa Inca’s perspective on the British party’s arrival. I like that we’re shown how the Sapa Inca wants to play the British and French off against each other long enough to avoid any of her local suitors to become a rival for her power. Too often, foreign ruler characters in a book tend to exist solely as obstacles for the protagonists to overcome, with little thought for how their actions towards a protagonist will affect their own power base. In Crucible of Gold, it feels like Temeraire and Laurence have genuinely stumbled upon a very delicate situation, one that their arrival could upset or aid.
I could have spent a lot longer in the Incan empire. Still, Brazil poses a whole new set of challenges for the team. Once again, Novik achieves a fine balance between intense fight sequences and the sweet, sweet song of negotiation. I love how, as the series branched out from military action in the Channel, Novik found ways to keep the action going even while giving us breathing room.
Crucible of Gold is a fine return to form for this series. You can easily skip the previous book and jump straight to this one.