Sunday, August 31, 2008

Victory of Eagles

Book four of seven from Worldcon (listed in the order I read them) was Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik. If you're not familiar with the series, let me just say, "Napoleonic War with dragons."

I'm not sure how much to write about this one. It's book five in a series I love, but like all extended series entries, it's kind of a closed loop. Fans of the series already know what's what and have probably already read it. People who haven't read the series aren't likely to read this one first, and a lot of people have told me they don't like to start reading long series in the middle, not knowing how long it will go on or whether it will stay good. They would rather wait for the series to wrap up and read the entire thing.

But I don't want to say nothing, so first, a random observation: this is the first book of the ones I brought back that was not in first-person (the others aren't, either, but it's odd that I would read all three first-person books back-to-back).

As far as the book itself, it was both great and disappointing. Great in the sense that it deepens the characters and the story and is wholly absorbing. I flew through this book and didn't want to put it down. I was a bit disappointed with the climax, though. Not so much with the outcome, but the way in which it unfolded felt a bit rushed to me. I can understand Novik not wanting to end on a cliffhanger--she did it with the previous book, and may not have wanted to do the same twice in a row--but it seemed like everything wrapped up a little too neatly.

Two things that strike me about the series:

Number one, it reminds me a lot of the Harry Potter books in that both concern an outsider brought into an insular society who, over the course of several books, learns of fundamental racial injustice within the society and works subtly to correct it. And both have main characters who are believably flawed, yet are basically good-hearted. They win our sympathy early and hold onto it through many trials.

Number two, the books have the feel of something written in the 19th century, which lends greatly to the flavor of this 18th century story. The characters' dialogue and subtle nuances of spelling and grammar ride a delicate balance between the old-fashioned turns of phrase which lend atmosphere and modern readability. Novik and her editor have done a great job with this. And the plotting groans with outrageous potboiler twists which fit perfectly with the tradition in which she's writing.

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