The Temeraire Reread

The Temeraire Reread: Empire of Ivory

Hello, everyone! Welcome back to the Temeraire Reread, in which I recap and review Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, one novel a week, leading up to the release of the final volume, League of Dragons, on June 14, 2016. We continue this week with the fourth novel, Empire of Ivory, in which we head to Africa and meet a bunch of revolutionary manumission abolitionists. You can catch up on past posts at the reread index, or check out’s other posts about Naomi Novik’s works through her tag.

Reminder: these posts may contain spoilers through all currently-published novels, but will contain no spoilers for the forthcoming League of Dragons (I’ve read it, but I’m pretending I haven’t). If you have read League, absolutely no spoilers! But there’s no need to warn for spoilers about the published books, so spoil—and comment!—away.


PART I (Chapters 1-5)

Chapter 1

It’s been three days since Temeraire and the feral dragons escaped from Danzig, carrying many Prussian soldiers. They come to Scotland harried by French dragons on patrol; they are saved not by British dragons, despite their desperate signals, but by townspeople using a new shore battery.

Laurence is furious at their abandonment, then stunned when Admiral Lenton tells him why the British did not send the twenty dragons promised to the Prussians: “There were no dragons to send.”

Every British dragon has a “sort of consumption,” brought by the Canadian dragon seen in Chapter 5 of Throne of Jade. Lenton’s own Obversaria, flag-dragon at Dover, is among the dead; Lenton says, “The very young hold up best, and the old ones linger; it is the ones between who have been dying. Dying first, anyway; I suppose they will all go in the end.” Not a single dragon has recovered.

Chapter 2

Laurence is stunned, again, to find that the new admiral at Dover is Jane Roland. She tells him that the Admiralty had no choice, but she is clearly doing an excellent job: she confirms Granby as Iskierka’s captain, cheerfully and successfully negotiates with Arkady, and commissions Tharkay to go back to Turkestan and recruit more feral dragons, as she currently has “less than forty dragons fit to fly.”

Jane also sets Temeraire and Laurence to patrolling with the feral dragons, to Temeraire’s despair—not just at the boring work, but at his inability to help their friends. One of Arkady’s lieutenants, Wringe, is shot in an encounter with a French scouting party, but Temeraire’s new dragon-surgeon, a stammering young man named Dorset, proves coolly capable.

Chapter 3

They head to a nearby covert for Wringe’s recovery. Ferris, a nineteen-year-old lieutenant, offers Laurence the hospitality of his mother’s nearby house. The experience “leav[es] Laurence to the rueful consideration that the cold and open hostility of his father might yet be preferable to a welcome so anxious and smothering.”

Multiple skirmishes with French dragons that night leave them all exhausted and afraid that eventually the French will make it to the quarantine-coverts and realize how few dragons Britain has available. Temeraire suggests pavilions to keep the dragons warmer than lying on the ground, and cooked food such as the Chinese cooks made for him. Jane agrees to a small trial.

Chapter 4

Spicier food improves the sick dragons’ appetites; but spices are expensive, so Jane sends Laurence to London to ask the Admiralty for funds. (Also, they resume their physical relationship.)

Laurence has no success with Grenville, the First Lord of the Admiralty. (In response, Temeraire asks Laurence to build a pavilion at the quarantine-coverts instead of for him, a particularly notable act of generosity from a dragon.) While in London, Lord Allendale (Laurence’s father) and Mr. Wilberforce (one of the leaders of the abolitionist movement) ask Laurence to act as an opposing celebrity to Lord Nelson, who single-handedly defeated their most recent step toward abolition, “an act which should have barred all new ships from the slave trade.” Laurence cannot refuse when Wilberforce decides to socially launch Laurence with a subscription-party to raise funds for sick and wounded dragons.

While waiting for the party, Jane uses a combination of inspiration, threats, and bribes to get Iskierka to listen to Granby at least a little, and also wins the ferals’ increased zeal with brass medals. These promising developments, unfortunately, are offset by the news that the first Longwing has died from the consumption.

At the party, Lord Allendale meets Emily Roland of Temeraire’s crew, who he immediately assumes is Laurence’s bastard daughter (“entirely the wrong impression, which Laurence could no more correct than his father would outright ask”). Laurence also meets the Reverend Josiah Erasmus, who is a former slave, an abolitionist, and an evangelical minister. And Lord Nelson attends and talks with Temeraire.

On the way back, Laurence and Temeraire fly over the quarantine-grounds to see how the pavilion is coming, but find a spying French dragon. They stop it from escaping, only to land them all in the quarantine pits.

Chapter 5

From the French courier, they learn that Lien is “deep in Napoleon’s councils.” Laurence cannot bring himself to care, sunk in despair over Temeraire’s imminent death. But after two weeks, Temeraire has shown no symptoms. Keynes, the dragon-surgeon who came to China with them, speculates that his passing cold in Africa may have actually been the consumption.

Jane sends Temeraire and his formation to Capetown on the Allegiance to run experiments. They are all very ill; Maximus is possibly the worst, because when the Regal Coppers do not eat, they lose muscle and smother under their own body weight (though the Longwings being unable to control their acid when coughing is no small matter, either).

Reverend Erasmus asks Laurence whether he and his family can be Laurence’s guests on the trip to Capetown. Laurence is socially unable to refuse, though he is aware that Captain Riley will take the Reverend’s presence as a deliberate insult given their past disputes over the slave trade. And indeed, the resulting argument is so bad that Laurence asks Harcourt to be their go-between for the journey.


In many ways, despite not being the actual mid-point of the series, I think this is the book around which the series pivots. The alternate-ness of the history kicks into a higher gear here, because the developments later in the book are much more obvious changes and have immediate effects, in contrast to the as-yet-unresolved elements of a more engaged and powerful China in Throne of Jade or a sped-up War of the Fourth Coalition in Black Powder War. In addition, the long-simmering questions of how dragons are treated and how Laurence understands his duty finally come to a crisis. So I really appreciate this book structurally and substantively: the further afield the series goes historically, the more I enjoy it, and while I admit that I sometimes want to tell Laurence to get over himself, already, when it comes to angsting about his treason, it’s such a critical point in his character development that I can’t regret it.

I’m also impressed by the series’ long-range planning. Of course the plague was established in Throne of Jade; but the delayed abolition of the slave trade is a small but critical detail, and that was set up when Nelson survived Trafalgar in His Majesty’s Dragon (the act that he defeated passed in our history in 1806, and was indeed a stepping-stone for full abolition, which passed in February 1807, roughly about the same time we are at in the book).

I also think this opening part strikes a nice balance with its tone. Of course it effectively conveys how serious the dragon consumption is, but it’s not unrelieved doom and gloom thanks to things like Jane being awesome (seriously, she is so awesome) and hideous social awkwardness.

Some minor notes before we move on:

  • The red vase bought in China goes off as a present to Laurence’s father in chapter one, never to be seen again, alas.
  • Tharkay “was tolerably familiar” with Scotland’s highest civil court the last time he was in Britain; he does not give Laurence details, but “Tharkay’s father had been a man of property, Laurence knew; Tharkay had none.” (Chapter 1.)
  • Iskierka’s range for breathing fire is 80 yards, twice that of a Flamme-de-Gloire, and she can breathe fire for five minutes straight. (Chapter 4.)
  • Dragons, like humans, can have non-procreative sex, which Temeraire had with Mei in China. Temeraire attempts to have procreative sex here with a Yellow Reaper named Felicita, which we’ll find out later was unsuccessful. (Chapter 5.)
  • Speaking of which, later on (chapter 8) another captain will ask Laurence if he is taking precautions against conception with Jane. “Laurence had never been asked a question he would have less liked to answer; all the more as it had abruptly and appallingly illuminated certain curious habits of Jane’s, which he had never brought himself to inquire into, and her regular consultations of the calendar.” Sponges, possibly? (Also, don’t take nineteenth-century gentlemen as your model: if pregnancy is a possibility, discuss birth control!)
  • Oh, and Emily has hit puberty. (Chapter 5.)

And now, Africa.


BOOK II (Chapters 6-12)

Chapter 6

Laurence, Temeraire, and the surgeons have been in Capetown for two days; they flew ahead of the Allegiance to start experimenting. So far nothing has jogged Temeraire’s memory, and no-one has found the revolting mushroom from their prior visit. Laurence was not at all sorry to come ahead; besides the urgency of the illness, he and Riley continued to be seriously at odds.

The Erasmus family comes ahead to Capetown with them, where the originally-Dutch colonists are in conflict with the new British government because they have depended heavily on slave labor for years and, “[h]aving thus arranged to be outnumbered … now exerted themselves to maintain the serenity of their establishments by harsh restrictions and an absolutely free hand with punishment.” But when Grey, the acting governor, asks Reverend Erasmus to moderate his family’s activity to avoid inflaming the tensions, he declines, “smiling and immovable,” and Grey is forced to put a guard upon their house.

The Allegiance arrives, and the dragons laboriously make their way off. Maximus is now sufficiently unwell that they know that he will not leave without a cure.

Chapter 7

The experiments continue, and they determine that the climate only slows the disease’s progress slightly. From England, they hear that more dragons have died and that the bill against the slave trade was again defeated in the House of Lords.

Then local children bring in the disgusting mushroom from their first visit. They try it on Maximus and Dulcia, and Keynes is finally forced to give a definitive opinion:

Keynes came in stamping his feet clear of mud, his coat sodden with rain and traces of whitish mucus, and said heavily, “Very well: we must have more of the thing.” They looked at him, made uncomprehending by his tone, and he glared back ferociously before he admitted with reluctance, “Maximus can breathe again,” and sent them all running for the door.

Unfortunately the fungus is so difficult to find that the local children have given up further searches. The aviators find a small specimen, but Chenery (Dulcia’s captain) is wounded by a rhinoceros and they are approached by an enormous red-brown feral dragon, which is driven away by their guns and Dulcia and Temeraire’s defense.

Keynes orders Nitidus dosed with the small specimen, on the grounds that they need a small dragon to go foraging with them and that the dose may not be enough for Lily.

Chapter 8

Two weeks later, Nitidus has recovered but they have found no more mushrooms. A merchant tells them that the mushroom does not grow in the Cape and that they should seek the Xhosa, who have more dealings inland. Unfortunately the Xhosa are not easily found because of the Dutch colonists’ constant expansion of their settlements. The aviators ask Reverend Erasmus to act as their interpreter, and though he knows little enough of the language, his missionary calling causes him to agree on behalf of himself and his wife.

They fly inland and put out trade goods in a clearing. After three days, they are approached by a very young hunter named Demane and his brother Sipho, who is probably six or seven years old. Demane tells them that the mushroom is eradicated by farmers because it makes cows sick and strikes a bargain for the tracking services of his dog, which finds a few small specimens before the end of the chapter.

Back at Capetown, Harcourt tells the other aviators that she is pregnant and that Riley is the father. Laurence cannot decide whether he should tell Riley, though they remain estranged; he asks Warren (Nitidus’s captain) about it, but Warren sees no reason why Riley should know, since there’s no point in marriage and Harcourt’s child would find an occupation in the Corps (and indeed, would be desperately needed if female).

Chapter 9

They have found only enough mushrooms to dose the remaining dragons at Capetown and to send samples back to England on the Fiona, the ship that brought word of their arrival. Harcourt decides they shall look further inland.

Maximus is still recovering, so he and the two Yellow Reapers (Messoria and Immortalis, captained by Sutton and Little) stay behind, while Temeraire, Lily, and the small Nitidus and Dulcia go searching. The dog leads them to a cave whose “floor was covered, covered in mushrooms.”

The aviators send the dragons back carrying as much as they can. Dorset realizes that the mushrooms have been deliberately cultivated, and the red-brown dragon from Chapter 7 arrives and roars furiously at them. They retreat to the cave (except for Demane, Sipho, and the dog, who flee) and shoot at the dragon, but when two more dragons arrive, with human crews, they realize that the red-brown dragon was not feral and that they have trespassed.

Two of the crew escort the Reverend and Mrs. Erasmus out to speak to the newcomers. The red-brown dragon reacts to Mrs. Erasmus’ appearance, upsetting them both.

Erasmus spread his hands, placating, continuing to speak even while he carefully sought to interpose himself before [Mrs. Erasmus]. He was plainly not understood; he shook his head and tried again, in the Khoi language. This was not understood, either; at last he tried another, haltingly, and tapping his own chest said, “Lunda.” The dragon snarled, and with no other warning, the man took up his spear and drove it directly through Erasmus’s body, in one unbroken and terrible motion.

One of the crew is also killed getting Mrs. Erasmus back into the cave. After a fire is set to smoke them out, the aviators decide to run for it, hoping to lose the locals in the forest.

Chapter 10

The aviators are taken prisoner. When they stop for food, the aviators’ attempt to escape is foiled, though at Mrs. Erasmus’ intervention, the dragon does not kill them. She tells Laurence that the dragon, whose name is Kefentse, says that he is her great-grandfather and that he knew her by the name Lethabo before she was kidnapped at the age of nine, though she does not understand what he means.

They continue to be brought steadily north by north-east into the interior, arriving a small farming village where they witness the villagers, human and dragon, telling a large dragon egg of his life when he was a human among them and urging him to come back. Kefentse “gave warning rather than encouragement, and spoke of grief at failing in his duty” when he found his entire village missing or dead. (Mrs. Erasmus thinks the slave-takers killed all the non-sellable members of her village so they could not send Kefentse in pursuit.)

Kefentse continues to bring them inland, and Laurence is astonished to see elephants being used to cultivate land (and as dragon food). Finally, they arrive at Mosi oa Tunya, a vast waterfall whose surrounding canyon is full of “great carved archways, mouths for vaulted halls … with quantities of ivory and gold inlaid directly into the rock … towering more vast than Westminster or St. Paul’s, the only and inadequate measures of comparison which Laurence possessed.” Also, dragons.

Chapter 11

Kefentse deposits the aviators into one of the smaller caverns, which is a very effective prison because the cliff is polished smooth. There, they see dragons drilling a cavern; a bonfire lit by a fire-breathing dragon; and nearly a thousand prisoners being brought back to similar caverns.

Laurence is brought to meet the king, Mokhachane (a female dragon), and his eldest son, Moshueshue (a male human), with Mrs. Erasmus to translate. Kefentse accuses them of being invaders in league with slavers (the Lunda), and their protestations are of no use. Laurence refuses to help them draw an accurate map of Europe, and is flogged severely.

He is returned to the cave and drifts in and out of consciousness for some time, and half-wakes to Temeraire calling him and one of the crew telling him, “Captain, you must wake up, you must, he thinks you’re dead—” Laurence tries to speak, hears a terrible roaring, and passes out again.

Chapter 12

Laurence wakes completely a week after his flogging, and is told that the local dragons drove Temeraire off. He is taken back to the great hall, where Prince Moshueshue asks him about trade goods, the purchase of weapons, and the slave trade.

Moshueshue put his hand on the map-table and gazed thoughtfully down upon it. At last he said, “You are not engaged in this trade, you say, but others of your tribe are. Can you tell me who they are, and where they may be found?”

“Sir, I am sorry to say, that there are too many engaged in the trade for me to know their names, or particulars,” Laurence said awkwardly, and wished bitterly that he might have been able to say with honesty it had been lately banned. Instead he could only add, that he believed it soon would be; which was received with as much satisfaction as he had expected.

“We will ban it ourselves,” the prince said, the more ominously for the lack of any deliberately threatening tone. “But that will not satisfy our ancestors.”

He then asks Laurence if the aviators can be exchanged for other members of Kefentse’s tribe. Mrs. Erasmus manages to convince him otherwise, without going into detail about the brutally short life expectancies of field slaves on Brazilian plantations (“maybe ten” years).

Laurence is brought to an enormous amphitheater, comparable to the Colosseum, and set near a captive Temeraire, who tells him that Lily and Dulcia are hiding out on the plains. Laurence and Temeraire are exhibited as proof of the dangers posed by the slave trade during a series of public speeches. During these, Laurence sees Dulcia with an improvised signal-flag saying “tomorrow.” The next night, Lily uses her acid to make handholds in the cliff, and the aviators escape into the jungle, meeting Temeraire, Lily, and Mrs. Erasmus (brought by Dulcia) on the ground.

They flee to Capetown, which they find being destroyed by dragons and warriors under King Mokhachane’s command. Demane and Sipho had returned to Capetown to claim their payment; but Demane, protecting Sipho, is stabbed by one of the British soldiers, and so the aviators take the siblings with them. Mrs. Erasmus refuses to leave: Kefentse let her go with them so she could find her daughters. “‘My husband is dead,’ she said, with finality, ‘and my daughters will be raised proud children of the Tswana here, not as beggars in England.’” Laurence recognizes that “he had not the right to compel her,” and leaves her to be reunited with Kefentse.


I read a few books on the Atlantic slave trade in preparation for the reread, and as I read, I couldn’t figure out why the series used the Tswana as the linchpin for this major divergence, because they were barely mentioned. Then I read further in general histories of Africa and found Prince Moshueshue: in our world, as Wikipedia summarizes, “the accomplished diplomacy of Moshoeshoe I … gathered together disparate clans of Sotho-Tswana origin” to establish Basutoland in 1822 (now Lesotho). Of course it’s earlier chronologically in the Temeraire series, but through dragon-rebirth, Moshueshue is still working together with his father (the supplementary material states that Mokhachane (h) was killed in 1798; I’m not sure about in our history).

This alternate Tswana Kingdom, and the rest of this section, seems to me to be a deliberate effort to write about Africa as an actual place like any other, which ought not be remarkable but, as Binyavanga Wainaina’s satirical essay “How to Write about Africa” points out, is sadly uncommon. The book depicts multiple societies, different languages, varying landscapes, creative and sensible agricultural and technological practices, and generally people who are as intelligent, as sophisticated, and as much the protagonists of their own stories, as Laurence and Temeraire.

That last part, by the way, is a constant tension in SFF generally and in this kind of world-spanning alternate history particularly. SFF can be seen, as Lois McMaster Bujold has usefully suggested, as a fantasy of political agency, which means SFF readers reasonably expect their protagonists to be the ones Making Things Happen. (No criticism intended; some of my most-loved books fall into this category.) But that can slide very easily into what TVTropes calls “Mighty Whitey,” in which a white outsider is positioned as the protagonist to such an overwhelming extent that the non-white “natives” are reduced to passive, ignorant accessories to the white outsider’s story. In my view, the series has so far successfully navigated this tension by showing Laurence to be a metaphorical pebble, who triggers landslides caused by conditions that existed before he and Temeraire got to the non-European societies. Further, I think this book does slightly better at establishing these existing tensions than Throne of Jade, though it’s hard for me to be certain since I already knew a little more about Africa during this time period.

Of course, though I’ve done some research, I am not an expert, and even if I were, there is no such thing as a Magical Minority Fairy who can wave a wand over a book and declare it to be Not Problematic. What I’ve said is why this works for me; I am entirely open to hearing other opinions, context I’ve overlooked, and so forth.

On a similar note, this is the first time in the series that new religious beliefs are created and ascribed to an existing group of people, which is always a thing to be cautious about when done from outside said group. The practice of dragon-rebirth (explained in more detail in the supplementary material, see the end of this post) seems to me to be treated with the same respect as other religious observances and societal practices in the series so far, and to be consistent with the religious emphasis on ancestral spirits of Bantu-speaking peoples around this time (John Iliffe, Africans: The History of a Continent, chapter 6). Again, however, see the caveats above.

As we’ll see early in the next part of this book, the Atlantic slave trade is probably over in the series. But its consequences remain, and so looking ahead to later books, I should note that Mrs. Erasmus was enslaved in Brazil and freed only shortly before her marriage, when the ship she was on was taken as a British prize. The conditions in Brazil were just as harsh as she says; the high mortality rates for slaves in Brazil and the Caribbean is one of the reasons vastly more slaves were delivered there than to North America.

(I’ve found slightly different numbers different places; Iliffe’s Africans says, in chapter 7, that “49 percent of exported slaves went to the Caribbean, 41 percent to Brazil, and fewer than 4 percent to North America,” while the numbers given in Appendix 3 of Hugh Thomas’ The Slave Trade are 4 million (roughly 35%) to Brazil and 500,000 (a bit over 4%) to British North America and the United States. (The way Thomas allocates the rest makes it hard to sum up the Caribbean numbers, but certainly at least as much as Brazil.) Both sources estimate that somewhere over 11 million people were taken from Africa by the Atlantic slave trade. These numbers are for delivery only; the North American plantations generally had positive population growth, and so by 1860, the slave population in the United States was approximately 4 million.)

Finally, the establishment of the Tswana Kingdom has huge implications for Africa beyond the slave trade. The historical Moshoeshoe established his kingdom partly in reaction to the Zulus, whose rise to power will now look very different here, if it occurs at all (we know the Tswana Kingdom survives until at least 1838, when the supplementary material is dated); and though it’s several decades off, I have to believe the Scramble for Africa is going to be severely affected.

Okay, that was a whole lot. Three minor notes: Laurence asks Reverend Erasmus whether dragons are subject to original sin; the Reverend thinks not, as only Adam and Eve are mentioned as eating the fruit. It was nice that Temeraire’s doubts about Lily and Dulcia’s ability to plan their escape after he was captured were not founded. And having seen Captain America: Civil War, a younger Chadwick Boseman has taken over my mental image of Moshueshue and refuses to leave. (Fun fact: T’Chaka and T’Challa speak Xhosa in the movie.)


PART III (Chapters 13-17)

Chapter 13

On board the Allegiance, Riley and Laurence mend their quarrel, and Riley begs Laurence for help understanding why a visibly-pregnant Harcourt refuses to marry him. Laurence convinces Riley that Harcourt will not leave the Corps, and explains to Harcourt that Riley needs to marry because his family’s property is entailed. She agrees to marriage, though the ceremony is postponed until they can resupply enough to provide a wedding-feast.

Resupply is long coming, as they find European port after European port destroyed by the Tswana ahead of them. At Cape Coast, a British port, they find two slave traders concealing two hundred slaves in the woods. Laurence, Temeraire, and the crew free the captives, and the slavers are taken on board.

(Riley and Harcourt’s wedding eventually takes place, though it is “a rather muddled occasion.”)

On August 10, 1807, the Allegiance at last comes into the Channel, where it finds a French convoy being captured by Iskierka and the feral dragons, who are well-practiced at taking and managing prizes, even in the absence of prize-crews. Sadly, their efforts are needed, because the British Navy has not been able to hold the blockade in the face of what seems “another hundred dragons more than [the French] ought” to have.

Chapter 14

The newspapers are in fits of racist hysteria over the news from Africa, and the aviators of Lily’s formation are summoned before the Admiralty to give their reports. On the way, they visit the pavilion Temeraire and Laurence had built at the quarantine-grounds, and are subdued to see the burial-mounds of dragons there. In happier news, they meet Captain James and Volly on courier duty again; Temeraire sends a letter to his family in China, and Laurence gets a letter from his mother, who writes that she hopes that the news from Africa will spur passage of the ban on the slave trade and encloses a string of garnets for Emily Roland, on the mistaken belief (see Chapter 4) that Emily is Laurence’s daughter.

Meanwhile, Laurence had field-promoted Emily and Dyer to ensign, and asks Jane to have Demane and Sipho named as replacement runners, as they have nowhere else to go.

Chapter 15

While Laurence and Jane are dressing to go to the Admiralty, Laurence proposes marriage without realizing he intended to. She refuses, kindly, but Laurence is “conscious of a lowering unhappiness.”

At the Admiralty, their Lordships would love to find some way to blame the aviators for the Tswana’s actions, but Jane successfully deflects them from that and from plans to retake the ports:

Jane [was] forced to recall to their Lordships, with poorly concealed exasperation, the parade of failures which had been occasioned by all the attempts to establish colonies in the face of organized aerial hostilities: by Spain, in the New World; the total destruction of Roanoke; the disasters in Mysore.

But their Lordships—and even Lord Nelson, who has talked with Temeraire (Chapter 4)—reveal that they have deliberately sent an infected French courier dragon back to France, whose dragons would then spread the plague throughout the world.

Strategy, strategy, would call it a victory to see the Chinese aerial legions decimated: without them, the Chinese infantry and cavalry could hardly stand against British artillery. The distant corners of India brought under control, Japan humbled; perhaps a sick beast might be delivered to the Inca, and the fabled cities of gold flung open at last.

The aviators are furious and sick. Temeraire, when he hears, asks Laurence what they shall do. Laurence does not understand at first, and speaks of defending the Channel against the expected retaliatory French invasion. Temeraire tells him that they must take the cure to France, and that he will take it alone if he must, treason or not. Laurence refuses: they shall go together.

Chapter 16

Laurence writes to Jane, apologizing. He and Temeraire fly to Loch Laggan, where they steal a tub of mushrooms, knocking out a Marine guard in the process. Temeraire confesses to Celeritas (their former training-master) as they leave, but they lose the dragons that pursue them and make it to France under a flag of parley, where they are made prisoner.

Chapter 17

After a week of interrogation, the efficacy of the cure becomes apparent, and “Laurence could only hope that with the cure established in England and France, the quarrel of the two powers must deliver it to their respective allies also,” with ordinary corruption spreading it anywhere else necessary. He also provides the location of the mushroom valley in Africa, as the French do not care to wait for their own harvest.

Laurence meets Napoleon, who is engaged in a vast program of public works to make Paris dragon-friendly. Napoleon attempts to convince Laurence to stay, if not to serve France then to live there in quiet retirement. Laurence just manages to refuse on his own behalf. Napoleon recognizes his resolve and tells him that France will send them back across the Channel with an honor-guard.

As they wait to leave, Laurence tries to convince Temeraire to stay:

“You serve me not at all, nor your own cause; it will only be thought blind loyalty.”

Temeraire said, after a moment, “If I do, will you tell them that I carried you away, against your will, and made you do it?”

“Never, good God,” Laurence said, straightening, and wounded even to be asked; too late he realized he had been led up to the mark.

“Napoleon said that if I stayed, you might tell them so if you liked,” Temeraire said, “and then they might spare you. But I said you would never say such a thing at all, so it was no use; and so you may stop trying to persuade me. I will never stay here, while they try to hang you.”

Laurence bowed his head, and felt the justice of it; he did not think Temeraire ought to stay, but only wished that he would, and be happy. “You will promise me not to stay forever in the breeding grounds,” he said, low. “Not past the New Year, unless they let me visit you in the flesh.” He was very certain they would execute him by Michaelmas.

Supplementary Material

The book contains extracts from The Tswana Kingdom: A Brief History, published in three volumes by Sipho Tsuluka Dlamini in 1838. It summarizes the rise of elephant-farming, gold mining, and the ivory trade, as well as the development of the ceremonial capital at Mosi oa Tunya. It explains the practice of dragon-rebirth:

That the feral dragon in the wilderness is no more a reborn human than is a cow is perfectly understood by [the Tswana], and viewed as no contradiction to their practice. Careful coaxing and ritual are necessary, besides a suitable housing, to induce an ancestral spirit to take up residence again in material form; the article of faith is to believe, once this has been achieved, that the dragon is certainly the human reborn, a belief much harder to dislodge, by its being firmly held not only by the men but the dragons, and of so much practical importance within the tribe.

That importance has many facets: labor, military power, repositories of tribal history and legend, and networks among tribes created by the dispersal of eggs.

Finally, the extracts cover the rise to power of Mokhachane I (d) and Moshueshue I (h), culminating in Mokhachane claiming the title of King in 1804, the result in significant part of smaller kingdoms seeking a united answer against the depredations of slave-traders. “The practical as well as ceremonial reign of Mokhachane I was confirmed by the conquest of Capetown and the Slave Coast raids of 1807, and the Tswana themselves date the founding of their kingdom from this year…”


That last chapter is one heck of a way to end a book. Of course we were all pretty sure, as readers of a series that then had no announced end date, that Laurence wasn’t going to be executed … but there was always that tiny chance. Instead, almost every action he takes from now on will be colored by his decision, bringing me back to what I said at the start about how pivotal this book is for the series. (Plus the change it forces on Temeraire in the next book is so great that it’s hard for me to leave it until next post.)

By the way, I’d vaguely thought that Michaelmas was near Christmas; it’s actually September 29. Since they arrived at the Channel on August 10, Laurence is expecting a rapid execution indeed.

When it comes to Jane, Laurence is a pretty emotionally reserved narrator, so it’s hard for me to tell how much his proposal is true longing and how much it’s the last gasps of his upbringing, coming as it does after successfully convincing Riley and Harcourt to marry, together with his desire, expressed throughout the series (such as in Chapter 17 of this book), for a quiet domestic life. Not, of course, that Jane would provide that, but down in his backbrain he may well still associate marriage with domesticity.

I have no pre-existing opinions about Napoleon’s personality, which I gather to be a predictably divisive topic; but I think the way the series handles him works from a dramatic standpoint. So, in Chapter 17, Laurence maintains his awareness of Napoleon’s “insatiable hunger for glory and power,” but regretfully acknowledges that his changes to Paris are “[a]n extraordinary work,” and generally feels the influence of Napoleon’s personal magnetism and acknowledges that he is right about some things. This gives the conversation another layer of tension and temptation, and like the bit in Black Powder War where Laurence is surprised that Napoleon is “not particularly stunted,” as shown by newspapers (Chapter 13), contributes to a more realistic feeling for the series overall.

In the bigger picture, we’ve had small mentions throughout the series that the Incan Empire still exists, and this part specifically says that it’s because the Spanish were fought off with dragons; we’ll get more details on that in Crucible of Gold. Similarly, the destruction of Roanoke is attributed definitively to opposition from the existing inhabitants, which suggests that the colonization of North America might have gone somewhat differently, though we’ll get only tiny hints as to that, alas.

I talked so much about the Tsawana in the last part that there’s not much else to say here. But I do remember how exciting it was, the first time reading, to see Sipho’s treatise in the supplementary material: extending out that big-picture hope after the bleak ending. I’ll just note the slavers in Cape Coast include George Case of Liverpool, who was one of the owners of the infamous Zong slave ship, and who also sues Laurence for letting the slaves go, seeking ten thousand pounds in damages (this was in chapter 15, but it didn’t fit in the summary).

I think that’s about all for this week. Next week, as the back of this book says: “Napoleon Invades England!!!” See you then.

Kate Nepveu was born in South Korea and grew up in New England. She now lives in upstate New York where she is practicing law, raising a family, running Con or Bust, and (in theory) writing at Dreamwidth and her booklog.


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