I've been reading Naomi Novik's Temeraire series, and I'm quite pleased with its characters and imagery. The idea that dragons provided integral air support during the Napoleonic War with England and the rest of Europe is an interesting one. Temeraire is a dragon without equal -- or so it was thought until a little ways into the series when it was discovered he is of the rarest of all Chinese Breeds, a Celestial. I'd been waiting for a while read the new installment in the series, Crucible of Gold. Beware... there are a few minor spoilers to follow but no major plot points given away.
Novik's books brought us from England to China, back through the Middle East, Eastern Europe, France, Africa, and finally to the new Penal Colony of Australia by the end of the previous novel, Tongues of Serpents. Crucible of Gold has Temeraire, Laurence (who gets reinstated as Captain for a new mission), and everyone else, including the ever spoiled Iskierka; semi-cranky, but grudgingly indulgent Granby; Demane, the boy from South Africa; and the once scrawny, but no longer, runt Kulingile. Hammond, the seeming bumbling, but incredibly shrewd ambassador even comes along on the entire journey this time.
They don't remain in Australia for long. Crucible of Gold takes us from there to South America where the troupe comes into contact with the head of the Incan Empire and eventually, again, the nasty Lien and Napoleon himself. If I have any criticism of this installment of the Temeraire series, it is only that Temeraire and Lien don't get into it again to heighten the plot between the two of them. That's more of a disappointment in my own wishes for the story, rather than any real issue with the plot. Now come the spoilers- again, they are not major plot breakers.
It should be interesting to note that Captain Granby is introduced as being gay in this novel and that Laurence has a stiff reaction to it, but the dragons clearly don't care one way or another. Iskierka finally convinces Temeraire to give her an egg (unless I completely misread the scene in the book three or four times) by using a poor, unsuspecting Incan dragon as a means to make Temeraire assert himself in the matter. Their interactions regarding how much they dislike one another is quite adorable.
I did like, too, how the South American dragons all have scales that appear to be quite feather-like and how the European dragons were greatly impressed, even if a little disbelieving, of all the gold blatantly used everywhere by the Inca. Despite Temeraire's preference for cooked meat and the fact Gong Su mostly seemed to be nothing more than a cook, I had a suspicion that he was going to eventually have a much greater role and position given the fact that he really had no apparent reason to be drug along through all sorts of intrigue, war, and other assorted dangerous misadventures with Temeraire and Laurence. I was dying to know if I was right about it or if it was just pure fancy, but it turns out Novik had something else in mind for him.
By the end of Crucible of Gold, the troupe has been invited back to China by Gong Su as Prince Mianning's representative and is on its way back to China, even if a little worse for wear and at least one reoccurring character short (I said I wouldn't give away any major spoilers). Or, at least it seems they are on their way back- Novik sort of left it a little open as to whether or not they're actually going to make it. Either way, I was not at all disappointed with this installment and I'm looking forward to seeing what will happen with Temeraire and Laurence against Lien and Napoleon. This was clearly an interlude leading up to another major clash. Definitely worth the buy:
You could read Crucible of Gold on its own and get an idea of whether the series is for you, however Novik doesn't waste a lot of time re-iterating details from past books. While there are some people that dislike this, I rather like it- I don't have to be reminded umpteen times of things that happened way back in Books 1 and 2. She will allude to previous occurrences when it is relevant to the current story arc, but she, thankfully, limits it mostly to that. I definitely recommend the whole series.
The previous novels are as follows, in order: