Laurence and Temeraire have betrayed the British. They have foiled their attempts to inflict death upon the French dragons by sharing the cure they found in Africa with their enemy.
But following their conscience has a price. Laurence feels he must return to face the consequences, and as soon as they land they are taken into custody. Laurence is condemned to the gallows and Temeraire faces a life of captivity in the breeding grounds. None of their friends or allies can come to their aid, for every hand is needed elsewhere.
Britain is completely unprepared for Bonaparte invasion and the advanced tactics of his own celestial dragon – Temeraire’s mortal enemy – Lien.
I said in my review of the fourth instalment in the series – Empire of Ivory – that my interest was waning a little. This is partly because there were elements to the narrative that didn’t seem to be progressing – most notably Temeraire’s desire for draconic equality – and the story, while interesting, just didn’t grab me as much as earlier instalments did. It did end on one hell of a cliff-hanger, however, and so I decided to give the fifth novel a chance. And I’m glad I did. I think that Victory of Eagles is on a par with earlier books in the series, with excellent progression in the various aspects of the narrative.
Victory of Eagles begins with Temeraire and his captain, Will Laurence, separated following their antics at the end of the previous novel. With Temeraire banished to the breeding grounds and Laurence sentenced to hang, things look bleak for the pair. While I didn’t expect this separation to be sustained over a long period, it does give Novik the chance to develop their characters independently. I’ve felt that Laurence, while sympathetic to Temeraire’s ambitions, often pulls him back, advising caution and patience to the point where little progress is made. Without Laurence, Temeraire is able to grow, even as he comes up against others who don’t appreciate his intelligence and attitude or in some cases that he is indeed a sentient creature. It was nice to see, even if the separation that allows it is painful to observe.
I’m no expert in the Napoleonic Wars, but to the best of my knowledge, the earlier novels in the series have been broadly consistent with history, aside from the dragons, of course. With this novel, Novik deviates entirely by having Napoleon invade Britain, entrenching himself in London and forcing the royal family into hiding in the north. With the invasion, all fighting dragons and their captains are needed, and so Temeraire and Laurence are granted a brief reprieve as Temeraire and his abilities are too valuable to ignore in the forthcoming battles. And I have to admit that even my ice-cold heart melted a little at their reunion. It’s fair to say that I’m completely invested in these characters and what befalls them!
Throughout the series, Laurence has proven himself to be honourable above all else. Even his activities in Empire of Ivory which see him branded a traitor are undertaken from a desire to do the right thing, irrespective of the consequences. As such, I found some of his behaviour in this novel a little puzzling as he begins to follow orders against his better judgement. He’s shown time and again that he will follow orders only for so long as to not compromise his values, and his behaviour here goes against this strong morality. It seemed contradictory to the character Novik has developed over the last four novels, although is perhaps explained by his despair and his forthcoming meeting with the hangman. It’s thankfully short-lived, but I wasn’t entirely sure why this aspect had been included when it bears no lasting relevance.
While it’s not quite the cliff-hanger of the previous novel, Victory of Eagles also ends on an intriguing note that means that I will read at least one more in the series. Tongues of Serpents holds a lot of potential for further exploration of this richly imagined world, and I’m looking forward to further adventures with Temeraire and Laurence.
The Temeraire series, with links to my reviews: