With Tongues of Serpents turning out to be a major disappointment for me, I wasn't sure whether or not I wanted to give Crucible of Gold a shot or not. Yet as the first volume of the three-book cycle that should bring the Temeraire series to a close, I was curious to see if Naomi Novik could recapture the magic that made the first few installments such original reads.
Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. This series has been losing steam for a while now, and Crucible of Gold is more of the same.
Here's the blurb:
Naomi Novik’s beloved series returns, with Capt. Will Laurence and his fighting dragon Temeraire once again taking to the air against the broadsides of Napoleon’s forces and the friendly—and sometimes not-so-friendly—fire of British soldiers and politicians who continue to suspect them of divided loyalties, if not outright treason.
For Laurence and Temeraire, put out to pasture in Australia, it seems their part in the war has come to an end just when they are needed most. Newly allied with the powerful African empire of the Tswana, the French have occupied Spain and brought revolution and bloodshed to Brazil, threatening Britain’s last desperate hope to defeat Napoleon.
So the British government dispatches Arthur Hammond from China to enlist Laurence and Temeraire to negotiate a peace with the angry Tswana, who have besieged the Portuguese royal family in Rio—and as bait, Hammond bears an offer to reinstate Laurence to his former rank and seniority as a captain in the Aerial Corps. Temeraire is delighted by this sudden reversal of fortune, but Laurence is by no means sanguine, knowing from experience that personal honor and duty to one’s country do not always run on parallel tracks.
Laurence and Temeraire—joined by the egotistical fire-breather Iskierka and the still-growing Kulingile, who has already surpassed Temeraire in size—embark for Brazil, only to meet with a string of unmitigated disasters that leave the dragons and their human friends forced to make an unexpected landing in the hostile territory of the Inca empire, where they face new unanticipated dangers.
Now with the success of the mission balanced on a razor’s edge, and failure looking more likely by the minute, the unexpected arrival of an old enemy will tip the scales toward ruin. Yet even in the midst of disaster, opportunity may lurk—for one bold enough to grasp it.
The first four volumes of this series more or less revitalized the genre, offering us dragons with a different and quite original twist. I'm not sure if it's because Crucible of Gold is the seventh installment, but it appears that the magic is truly gone. Novik seems to have grown complacent, happy to offer simple, formulaic, and episodic works in style and tone. Indeed, the last few books have done very little to further the overall plot and feel like interludes while everything else occurs "off stage."
As was the case with its predecessor, Crucible of Gold is mostly filler material. Weighing in at a very short 288 pages, one would think that it would mostly be important material that moves the plot forward. Not much actually takes place, however, which makes me wonder just what the author has in store for us in the last two volumes. I was expecting to see storylines coming together and revealing or at least hinting at the finale to come. But no. . .
In the past, I've always loved the author's depiction of the various locales the characters visited. With an historian's eye for details, Novik's depiction of Australia, the Inca Empire, and Brazil made for an evocative narrative. She has always excelled at that, and this book is no different. Unfortunately, what is also no different is that the better part of the novel turns out to be an uninspired travelogue chronicling Laurence and Temeraire's journey from Australia to South America.
The characterization is decidedly subpar. I used to find the relationship between Laurence and Temeraire and the rest of the dragons to be engaging, yet I fear that somehow it got old a few books back. The interaction between Temeraire, Iskierka and Kulingile, especially, has become quite annoying at times. Consider the fact that a lackluster supporting cast brings very little to the story and you end up with a characterization that leaves a lot to be desired.
Mind you, there is some good stuff in there. There are a number of revelations and plot twists that are indeed satisfying. Trouble is, they are few and far between in this travelogue. The endgame is rushed for no reason I could fathom, bringing this novel to an end in a manner that will likely fail to please readers. The ending is interesting, though, promising a few unanticipated surprises for the forthcoming installments to come.
I used to be a big fan of Naomi Novik's Temeraire saga, and that from before the first volume even hit the shelves of bookstores everywhere. And yet, the proliferation of sequels whose pertinence seems questionable sort of killed it for me. There are so many existing storylines to build on to bring back what made the novels so entertaining in the first place. It is now evident that the decision to split this series into nine volumes when there was material for maybe five or six has hurt the overall quality of the books. Which is too bad, for the Temeraire series was a winner.
Although it gets better toward the end, Crucible of Gold can be nothing but another disappointment. . .