Spoiler alert! This review reveals significant plot details.
Second review: September 7, 2015
Not going to write a lot here, because I covered most of it in my review of 4 years ago, below.
Victory of Eagles is a lot of fun because Temeraire takes it into his head to form his own little dragon corps and even request a rank. That’s cool for many reasons. First, he wrests some acknowledgement of dragon sapience from Government. Second, Temeraire discovers that having rank is not all fun and games. Wellesley gives him quite the dressing-down about taking responsibility for one’s subordinates’ actions after Iskierka rushes off.
One of the ongoing perks of this series is the way that Temeraire and Laurence misunderstand each other’s worlds. We see more of that from Temeraire’s side this time in his conversations with the other dragons. Gentius is confused by his first captain’s propensity for reading romances. The dragons are all about accumulating shiny things, which is hilarious to me but deadly serious for them. And Temeraire also just doesn’t understand Laurence’s dedication to this idea of honour and how it was necessary to return to Britain to face punishment, even execution, instead of fleeing somewhere more welcoming, like China.
This book features some major battles and extensive departures from established history. (You would think Britain’s Aerial Corps would help them win the Napoleonic Wars faster, but Napoleon actually has the upper hand for most of this book!) However, I’d argue that this is all interesting historical background. The majority of Victory of Eagles is, as I outlined above, about Temeraire and Laurence’s relationship. Both have now stepped into the other’s world a little bit.
Of course, by the end we’re back on a ship, bound for the wild and uncharted frontier of Australia. That’s exciting! I haven’t read Tongue of Serpents before, so it will be brand new for me. We’ll see how Temeraire and Laurence negotiate this brave new world, and whether Temeraire can continue the struggle for dragon rights.
First review: February 10, 2009
I haven't read book 4 yet, but one of the advantages of Naomi Novik's writing is that this is the sort of series where skipping a single book won't harm your enjoyment of a subsequent volume. As long as you keep up with the major plot points (there was a dragon virus; they found a cure in Africa; Laurence and Temeraire shared it with France as well as Britain and are now traitors for it), it's easy to sink your teeth into Victory of Eagles.
Both Temeraire and Laurence were broken at the end of the last book, apparently. Temeraire is consigned to a "retirement" covert while Laurence serves some time on a naval vessel, each being held against the other's good behaviour. Laurence is condemned to hang (although we, as the faithful readers, know at this point that such an event would never come to pass!). Temeraire, as usual, is having trouble comprehending the strange nature of nationalism and the military judicial system. His reactions to the other dragons who live in the covert are humourous. Indeed, the improvements he makes to his own cave are a catalyst that results in Temeraire forming his own "aerial corps" of dragons. Composed of retired fighters, tamed dragons who have never fought, and feral dragons, Temeraire convinces them to join him with promises of treasure and improvements in their quality of life.
Novik knows enough of her history to have fun with altering it to suit her purposes. The book begins with Napoleon establishing a foothold in England and proceeding to attempt to quell the countryside and obtain the resources required for feeding his sizable corps of dragons (one of the very few complaints I'd make about this book is the amount of space it devotes to concerns about feeding dragons). Admiral Nelson hasn't died at Trafalgar, but actually dies in the battle at the climax of this book instead--a casualty of a tsunami created by Lien's use of the divine wind. Lien herself plays a rather minor role in this book.
Perhaps more plot-driven than character-driven, Victory of Eagles still contains great moments for both of the main characters. As an "outsider", Temeraire can make brutal observations of the folly of humanity. At the same time, he does or says some things we would find questionable or even unacceptable. Laurence, meanwhile, continues to wrestle with his conflicting statuses--both traitor and potential saviour. Novik has much fun pitting one against the other; they act as each other's foils while remaining allies against those who would rend them apart.
I disliked very little about this book. Parts of it were slow. As I mentioned above, Novik devotes an inordinate amount of time to matters of food and obtaining enough livestock to satisfy the dragons. I'm willing to forgive her, however, since it is an important plot point, so perhaps it's better to stress it rather than understate its importance and risk criticism for glossing over such a potential plot hole.
Fans of the Temeraire series will enjoy this book. It isn't the best of the series, in my opinion, but it's still entertaining. For those new to Temeraire's series, I would naturally recommend reading the first book first--you will be a little confused if you skip all the books before this one!