So I finally got around to reading the 4th book in the ‘Temeraire’ series by Naomi Novik, ‘Empire of Ivory’. In the fourth installment of the series a terrible illness sweeps through the English aerial corps, rendering England vulnerable to attack by Napoleon, and Laurence and Temeraire and friends travel to Africa in search of a cure. The story moves quickly, and all in all I found it quite enjoyable.

It took me a while to get into this book as its been a while since I read the previous book in the series. Despite that, the beginning was quite exciting, and even with me forgetting who all the characters are, I really got into it about halfway through.

The book starts in England, and we meet characters and dragons we haven’t really seen since the first book in the series. This is perhaps part of the problem, because I found I wasn’t too concerned about any individual sickly dragon as I didn’t remember them, however at least the threat the illness places to England is pretty clear, which should draw the reader into the struggle even if you don’t care about any particular dragon. Anyway, it soon becomes clear Temeraire is immune to the disease, and he and Laurence, and a heap of other dragons, get sent to Africa. I felt the reasons for traveling to Africa were a bit slim, however I suppose it was understandable considering what was at stake. (I felt this, and the actual cure, were the weakest parts of the book). Like the previous books, despite the fact that England is at war, we see very little of this war, as Laurence is off doing other things far, far away from England.

The book shines, as with the previous installments, when Novik introduces a new culture and people, and how they deal with dragons. The tribes of the interior of Africa relate to dragons in a different way to the other cultures Novik has introduced in the previous books, and I always find these sections the most interesting and well-thought out. As we’re in Africa with Laurence’s old friend Captain Riley (who, if you remember, has family in Africa who use slave labour), we also see a bit of the struggle between two friends who disagree fundamentally about a serious issue. This, as well as what we see of the slavery debate in England, were well-handled I thought, as we have otherwise reasonable and likeable characters defending an indefensible practice.

Aside from the adventures in Africa, we also see a bit more of Laurence’s relationship with Jane. The reader only sees bits and pieces of it, which I felt was more to remind us that they’re still together, when he’s in the country. I never felt a sense of any emotion (aside from mutual respect), and I always thought it was more a relationship of convenience, so I found it hard to care very much about it.

All in all, ‘Empire of Ivory’ is an easy, fast-paced read with a relatively uncomplicated plot (by which I mean, there aren’t a lot of complicated side-stories). It took me a while to get into it, but when I did I found it quite entertaining. It ends on a cliffhanger, like the previous books, that left me wanting to rush out and get the next book in the series. If you enjoyed the previous books, you’ll probably enjoy ‘Empire of Ivory’ as well.

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