Tag Archives: postcolonial fantasy

New to Me: review of Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik

Where I got it and why:

Latest of the Temeraire series! One of the last books obtained from the Madison Public Library before I moved.


Yes! If you’re a fan of the series, of course. Not as a starting place.


Convicted of treason despite their heroic defense against Napoleon’s invasion of England, Temeraire and Laurence—stripped of rank and standing—have been transported to the prison colony at New South Wales in distant Australia, where, it is hoped, they cannot further corrupt the British Aerial Corps with their dangerous notions of liberty for dragons. Temeraire and Laurence carry with them three dragon eggs intended to help establish a covert in the colony.

Eager to escape the political quagmire in New South Wales, Laurence and Temeraire take on a mission to find a way through the forbidding Blue Mountains and into the interior of Australia. But when one of the dragon eggs is stolen from Temeraire, the surveying expedition becomes a desperate race to recover it in time—a race that leads to a shocking discovery and a dangerous new obstacle in the global war between Britain and Napoleon.


I mentioned in my review for Victory of Eagles that that book reminded me of Letter of Marque by Patrick O’Brian, where Captain Aubrey is dismissed from the service and spends most of the book in an utterly despondent state of mind. For the first part of Tongues of Serpents, I was convinced that this was going to be more of the same – awkward in the extreme, however well-written.

Fortunately, (former) Captain Will Laurence is rather more flexible than Captain Aubrey. Aubrey needs the service to be complete; Laurence only needs Temeraire. And while the two of them are not overjoyed to be in Australia, they are at least reasonably satisfied.

That is, until the eggs are stolen. Dragons’ nesting instinct being what it is – frighteningly extreme – they chase the thieves across the interior of the continent only to discover, at the other end, more of the same war they’ve just been removed from.

The Napoleonic Wars really are, in this universe, the first World War; everyone’s involved. And they keep dragging in various other people. China’s involvement begins to imply the rest of Southeast Asia, and of course there are the British colonies – what exactly have they been doing all this time? There’s been mention of a still-extant Incan empire… (Fortunately, it looks as though we’re heading to Brazil in the next book. Huzzah!)

As I’ve come to expect from this series, Tongues of Serpents is a rich, exciting trip through an increasingly wonderful world. I particularly enjoyed the bunyips – of course, since Australia has such a separate evolution from the rest of the world, they don’t have dragons. But they do have something else. (Temeraire’s indignance at their hunting methods was…a little hilarious, really.) And as always, what I truly love is spending more time with all these characters, Laurence and Temeraire and Tharkay and Granby in particular. Even if they don’t always develop dramatically (or even subtly), they’re like a group of old friends I just love coming back to.

In a Sentence:

Another sterling entry in the Temeraire series, Tongues of Serpents explores a complex and interesting alternate early-colonial Australia.


Series: Temeraire

Want to read it yourself? Find Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik on Goodreads, Indiebound, Barnes & Noble.

A Book of Tongues, The Broken Kingdoms, Atlantic, Misery

Gemma Files, A Book of Tongues
I grabbed this book after just glancing through it at the public library’s new book shelf, and now I’m buying a copy and preordering the sequel. This is awesome, guys. Supernatural Old West, magic-wielding Confederate ex-Reverends, and a heavy dose of Mayan mythology to top it off. Also, gay characters who are a) main characters, b) not demonized (for being gay, anyway), and c) likely to survive to the end of the series and possibly even get a happy ending. Obviously it’s a trilogy and that last one is far from certain, but I’m thrilled at just the possibility right now.

N.K. Jemisin, The Broken Kingdoms
The sequel to the excellent Hundred Thousand Kingdoms of last year, and you know, I think I liked this one even better. It seems to hang together better; the book feels a little more solid. I’d have to reread the first one to explain exactly why. (Oh the horror! *dramatic hand to forehead*) It seems, interestingly enough, that the main recurring characters in this series are the gods, not the mortals, but the POV characters in both books so far are the mortal women they deal with. I like that a lot, actually.

Simon Winchester, Atlantic
Finally, I have finished this book! This was another ARC I picked up at ALA in June, and I have been trying to get through it for months. It purports to be a history of the Atlantic ocean, but for large portions of the book it seems much more to be an excuse for the author to show off his superior knowledge of history and his extraordinarily exciting life as an investigative journalist. I was somewhat offended to find that the latter sections, while unbelievably pretentious, were also the most interesting parts of the book. Maybe he should have just written a memoir instead.

Stephen King, Misery
When did Stephen King stop being this good? No, really. I picked this up again after reading Learn Writing With Uncle Jim, where Jim MacDonald recommends it as a novel about how to write a book. And not only does it work on that level – spectacularly well, particularly the scene where Annie makes Paul burn his Serious Manuscript – but it’s also frequently tense, disturbing, and downright scary. I haven’t felt that way about any of the newer Stephen King books at all.