Book Report: Empire of Ivory

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Somehow, I seem not to have logged Jade Whatsit the third Temeraire book by Naomi Novik, so I didn’t record what I thought about it at the time. My recollection is that I was disappointed. I can’t remember exactly what I felt was disappointing, but I know that I had decided not to head straight to the fourth book. I have, in fact, thought vaguely about going in to the bookstore next to the library and buying the fourth book in paperback, but I have resisted the urge, not only because it has been a bad time for us to spend money unnecessarily, but because I was dreading the bit where the series jumps the proverbial.

Digression: I have been a crank about maintaining that the phrase jumps the shark properly is experiential rather than objective: it refers to the moment when the regular viewer of Happy Days, knowing that the show stinks but hoping beyond hope that it is a temporary slump, finally gives up all hope that the show will ever be any good again. When viewed that way, it’s an interesting phenomenon, applicable in lots of conversations to lots of things. When did you give up on Piers Anthony? And were the first books actually funny or were you just twelve years old? Was the moment of giving up poignant or a relief? Are you the sort of person that gives up easily or the sort that holds on, grimly sitting through book or movie or concert because you owe the artist another chance? I watched through the end of Northern Exposure, even though I didn’t enjoy the last season much at all, largely because I knew it was the last season, and it seemed the least I could do. But that’s me, and my experience, and people are different one to another, which makes the world interesting and fun. I would much rather hear somebody tell me what it was like to have Cheers (f’r’ex) jump the shark for that person than argue about when the show jumped the shark in some objective sense. End digression.

The fourth book is Empire of Ivory, and it showed up on the paperback shelf at the library, and I checked it out with some misgivings. And then I loved it. Lots of action, lots of interaction of interesting characters, just the right leavening of historical incident and just the right leavening of non-historical silliness. The plot had a decent amount of suspense, although of course nobody believed that all the dragons were going to die. Still, the author could have killed off more dragons than she did, or less, so there was that, and there was legitimate suspense about the shift in the war that came along with the dragon plague. For some reason, the progress of the Napoleonic War in Europe in the last book bored me; the desperate attempt to keep the French from finding out the weak defenses of the English was exciting. I assume it was something to do with the writing, but I couldn’t tell you what.

All I can tell you is that I am once more eager to read the next book in the series. Although still a bit apprehensive, because it would really be heartbreaking if the next one stunk.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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