When I started the third book in Naomi Novik's Temeraire series, Black Powder War (2006), I wasn't too excited. I really appreciated the fun and creativity of the first book. I still liked the second book, but stuck on a ship and without his fellow dragons, it felt a little slower. Starting the third book, I was thinking there just wasn't enough happening to keep such a long-running series going. But I like the characters and pretty quickly I found myself once again interested in the story. By the end of the book, I was looking forward to, and wondering what would occur, in the fourth. Despite my general aversion to fantasy and war novels, I have a feeling I'm going to stick this series out.
Black Powder War begins with the dragon Temeraire, his captain Laurence, and the rest of the crew waiting for fair wind to sail away from China and go back to England. They receive orders to go to Istanbul to pick up three valuable dragon eggs that had been sold to the Brits. After some damage to the dragon transport, Laurence, Temeraire, and his crew decide to travel overland rather than wait for the ship to be repaired in order to get to Istanbul as quickly as possible. Questions about the eggs and diplomatic issues when they reach Istanbul create trouble for Laurence when he tries to follow orders, and he has to make some bold decisions without the possibility of any guidance. In the meantime, Temeraire, having learned about how life can be for dragons in China, is focused on improving the lot of the dragons back home in England. At the same time Napoleon is marching inexorably forward in his bid to gain more power and land.
I still prefer His Majesty's Dragon, the first book of the series, but Black Powder War is now my second favorite; not a ringing endorsement, but all I can give it. Sometimes the war talk and diplomatic stuff gets a little slow for me. And I couldn't help but wonder that in all of Istanbul, they just happen to place the eggs in a harem, which also just happens to be right over the wall from where Laurence and Temeraire are staying. Coincidence? Or are Laurence and his crew just very lucky? I also tried to ignore the innumerable colons, semi-colons, and extraneous commas littered throughout the text because they didn't affect the story, but they're starting to become my personal pet peeve. On the plus side, I really liked that a new, baby dragon was introduced in this book. I hope that it means they're heading back to England and the rest of the dragons I found so interesting in the first novel.