Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik

My sister and my son have been after me to read Temeraire for years, and I even have His Majesty’s Dragon on my eReader, signifying my intention of checking this series out. However, I have a lot of books to be read (two bookcases of them in fact), and it never leapt to the front of the pile. So when I saw Crucible of Gold on the book signup at Library Thing, I figured I’d give fate a chance at my reading schedule. Sure enough, I won, and I am grateful for it.

It’s often said that once the book is done, you cannot tell if it was a character-, plot-, or idea-focused novel at inception because all those elements blend smoothly. This is not the case with Crucible of Gold, which bothers me not at all, an odd statement in a reader who tends to get frustrated when where the book is going remains unclear.

Crucible of Gold is a people book, using the term “people” to identify sapient beings. While much later in the series, it neither drags down with the history, nor keeps the new reader guessing about the crucial elements, making this a plausible read even for those uncomfortable with reading out of sequence. I would say, however, that unless you’re willing and able to read the earlier books as prequels, you should start at the beginning as a lot has happened before this novel that would have made the center pin for the previous books. If knowing these things in advance would spoil the read, this is not the starting point for you.

But going back to the type of book this is, I’ll give you an example: The book starts out with Laurence reinstated into His Majesty’s Aviators for the sole purpose of seeing if a previous abduction offers him any insight into a way to sway the Tswana dragons from Napoleon so they will not endanger Portugal’s hold on Brazil. Seeing as Laurence was banished for refusing an immoral order, and he sides more with the Tswana dragons who are trying to rescue people who were taken as slaves, it wouldn’t have taken much for this novel to have a strong plot driving the characters at every step.

It doesn’t work out that way at all.

There are interpersonal conflicts between Laurence and the scraps of humanity that are all they are afforded to sail them to Brazil. Temeraire is at once attempting to have Laurence given the right amount of respect and bemoaning his lack of a trained crew to manage his own comfort. Hammond, the diplomat, is struggling to balance his own positions with those of Laurence. And those are only the tip of the iceberg that is this novel.

Disaster after disaster strikes this voyage, one of which is hinted at on the cover art, and the reader is drawn into conflicts that explore relationships between aviators and crew, aviators and sailors, officers and common sailors, and most especially, between human and dragon. Which isn’t even accounting for the dangers of weather when at sea.

Temeraire learns a whole new way of looking at the connection between dragons and humans, a way that appeals almost as much as proving himself in battle. His efforts to influence Laurence, and Laurence’s efforts to come up with workable, fair solutions to each situation, even when he himself holds deep, and warranted, grudges at times, make this novel a fascinating study of relationships and interactions. The situations are only complicated, to the better, by the other dragon pairs, each with their own conflicts and driving ties.

If you like people novels–heck, if you like alt history which looks at personalities as the key element in what determines the fate of individuals and nations–it’s worth checking out the novels of Temeraire, whether you start with the latest, as I did, or go back to the first…as I now plan to do.

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One Response to Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik

  1. Jacob Fisk says:

    As the son mentioned in the beginning of this article, my dearest mother has *cough* influenced *cough* me to write a note on this book as someone who has read the entire series. I should make a note that, to my everlasting distress, I was unaware of the installment of the series before Crucible of Gold, and as such, have not read it yet. However, I have read, and reread, the entire rest of the series, and find the newest book to be more of the same excellence I have always found when picking up a new book of the Temeraire series. Previous history comes into play during the course of the newest novel, while at the same time keeping in a continuous cycle of re-telling and informing so that readers new to the series are not left astray. The wonders of the Temeraire novels comes forth in an impressive array of sociology, anthropology, and psychology once again in this new book, and I am pleased to have read it. As always, the language is impeccable, the characters feel real enough to hold emotional sway over the readers, and the novels always make me feel the era of the Napoleonic Wars is just a page-turn away. Of course, the page-turn also brings dragons, but to be honest, what hasn’t been made better with the introduction of dragons?

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