Tongues of Serpents is the sixth book in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. It is also the final book of the second of three planned trilogies. The Temeraire series offers an alternative version of the historical war against Napoleon. The one big difference between books and history being the use of an air force of dragons. The series is about one of these dragons, Temeraire, and his captain Laurence.
This book continues where the last one – Victory of Eagles – left off. After being convicted of their treason at the end of the fourth book, the dragon Temeraire and his captain Laurence have been shipped away to Sidney, Australia, in the British penal colony of New South Wales. This is the place where all the worst criminals are send to work.
Sidney turns out to be a rather boring place, without much to keep Temeraire busy. Except, perhaps, the struggle for leadership of the colony. This turns out to be a struggle in which both sides are eager to use Temeraire and the power he presents. To escape the situation, Temeraire and the other dragons take the dragon eggs they are guarding and fly to the inlands to find a suitable location to establish a new base. However, when one of the eggs are stolen, it leads to a wild chase across the entire continent. With a surprise at the end of it.
A slow developing plot
When I first read the description of the book, I was eagerly looking forward. Especially after enjoying the first five books and having to wait two years for this book to be published. Two years that are, in my opinion, way too long for a book of only 274 pages.
The truth, however, was disappointing. While the plot has a lot of potential and the situation in which Temeraire and Laurence find themselves – marked as traitors after following their hearts and saving the lives of thousands of dragons – intrigues me, the way it has been worked out is very lacking. Of course it will take about fifty pages to get used to Naomi Novik’s eccentric, formal style of writing, but having to wait another fifty pages for the story to actually start was a turnoff for me. Those first hundred pages or so were filled with political dialogue and Laurence’s inability to make decisions.
After those boring first hundred pages, however, the book was definitely worth reading. The way Novik describes the Australian continent can almost be considered art. After reading to book, I totally want to go there myself. It’s obvious she’s done a lot of research, as well as visit the country. The use of Australian mythology was also very creative and well accomplished.
Nonetheless, the story never truly develops into a book worthy of this series. Many details that are useless to the story are explained, while many important details are left out or forgotten. But most importantly, the book doesn’t really have an ending. It does lead into a climax, but before that climax, the story is suddenly interrupted, leading it into a whole new direction.
This gives me the feeling Tongues of Serpents is no more than a filler book. There isn’t much story here. The bigger story over the series isn’t very developed. In fact, the book pretty much ends where it begun. The only thing that’s really changed, are the characters. A change, however, that holds a promise for further books. For the first time in all her books, Naomi Novik has definitely used some well-placed foreshadowing. The future of this series is looking very bright, indeed. However, that doesn’t change my opinion that Tongues of Serpents could easily have been compressed into the first hundred pages of the next book in the series.
Why should you read this book?
If you haven’t read any Temeraire-books before, this one doesn’t offer any reason to do so. However, fans of the series will be able to appreciate it. While being a filler book, and never really satisfying its reader, this book can’t be excluded from one’s collection. Besides, Tongues of Serpents does include many of the elements that made previous books great, including the well-written characters and childish intelligent dragons that make Temeraire unique. But in the end, I just can’t shake that feeling of watching a very exciting sports came with a very bad commentator. Just turn down the volume and enjoy the story.