Dragons down under
Tongues of Serpents, the sixth installment in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, opens just as the dragon Temeraire and his captain, Will Laurence, have arrived at the British colony of New South Wales in Australia. Temeraire and Laurence have been sent to Australia as prisoners after being convicted of treason, and the stain on their character is a difficult burden to bear—particularly for Laurence, whose compassion and common sense make him especially appealing to modern readers. But the real hero of these novels is Temeraire, an imposing figure who can blow holes in the sides of ships with his roar (known as “the Divine Wind”), but also loves to work on complex mathematical equations and is quite enamored of gold, jewels and fine clothing.
Temeraire and his fellow dragons are surely Novik’s finest accomplishment. Each dragon is distinguished by physical differences as well as sharply observed personality quirks and foibles. Much of the plot of Tongues of Serpents concerns a long chase through the interior of the Australian continent when one of the dragon eggs that Temeraire has been guarding is stolen; along with Temeraire and Laurence on the quest to recover the egg are Iskierka, a fire-breathing dragon who annoys the rest to no end, as well as two new hatchlings, one of whom puts the entire group in a rather difficult position.
To say much more about the dragons would be to spoil much of the pleasure of Tongues of Serpents. Less action-heavy than previous books in the series, the novel’s high points come with the introduction of new elements into its world, whether new characters or new adversaries, like the water-dwelling bunyips (a creature out of Aboriginal Australian mythology) who devise an ingenious trap for our heroes. Novik’s many fans will be pleased to spend more time with Temeraire, Laurence and their companions, and will be eager to see where their further adventures will take them.