I pre-ordered the latest Temeraire book, Crucible of Gold, but didn't realize I would need to re-read this one first. I'm glad I did. It is a lot shor...moreI pre-ordered the latest Temeraire book, Crucible of Gold, but didn't realize I would need to re-read this one first. I'm glad I did. It is a lot shorter than the earlier Temeraire books, and when I first read it, I thought it might be the first half of a larger novel that was split into two for publication. This time, though, it was more obvious that this was just a nice short book. I enjoyed it, but not as much as the earlier ones simply because Lawrence and Temeraire's Australian exile isn't as interesting to me as their involvement in the Napoleonic wars. I did like the bunyips, though. Bunyips are scary-cool. I also can't be the only person who gets so incredibly frustrated with the stupid convicts, right? Over a hundred years after Richard Morgan's time and the convicts haven't learned anything? The subtext really is an indictment of the futility of England trying to govern a colony even farther away than North America.
I like military fiction anyway, and this is some good military SF. You've got this guy, John Geary, who wakes up from 100 years of drifting in an aban...moreI like military fiction anyway, and this is some good military SF. You've got this guy, John Geary, who wakes up from 100 years of drifting in an abandoned survival pod to find that a) the war that had just begun back then is STILL going on, b) he was "posthumously" promoted to captain after his disappearance, c) in all that time, he's become something of a folk hero, and d) thanks to fleet rules about seniority, when the Alliance fleet's leadership is massacred, he's the senior ranking officer by about 100 years, which means that e) he's suddenly become the leader of a fleet whose traditions bear no resemblance to the military discipline he's used to and f) has to fight not only the opposing forces of the Syndic, but also the captains and commanders who resist his every command. (Good thing there are so many letters in the alphabet, huh?)j
This first book in a six-volume series does a good job of establishing both the larger picture of two sides fighting an endless war and the small details of how the fleet works. As frustrating as Geary's internal opponents are (because most of them are total raving lunatics who've somehow internalized the idea that a glorious battle is one in which it doesn't matter if you die), the history of how they got to be that way makes a lot of sense. Campbell has an excellent grasp of physics and how it would affect ships traveling at relativistic speeds; no close-in Star Wars/Star Trek combat (by which I mean no criticism of either; this series could never make the kind of dramatic television and film they do). There are a few discordant notes, but certainly not enough to ruin my enjoyment.(less)
The second book in the Lost Fleet series lives up to the promise of the first: plenty of space battles, plenty of internal politics, plenty of creativ...moreThe second book in the Lost Fleet series lives up to the promise of the first: plenty of space battles, plenty of internal politics, plenty of creative strategy. With series like this I tend to forget what happened in which book, and I don't consider this a problem because in my mind this is actually one giant book, sort of like the Lord of the Rings. It does make it difficult to review sometimes. In this case, though, the story is all-too-easy to remember: the fleet liberates a POW camp whose prisoners have been there for two decades. Among the former prisoners is Captain "Fighting" Falco, legendary in his own time for his daring battles against the Syndic and a charming, persuasive orator. It's obvious from the time he shows up that he'll be John Geary's newest headache, but unlike the recalcitrant captains Numos and Faresa we met in the first volume, Falco provides a powerful rallying point for the opposition. As a result, Geary's efforts are divided far more thoroughly than before, but this means that resolving the difficulties arising from Falco's presence is far more satisfying than the end of the first book. Still enjoying the series; still interested in reading the rest.(less)
Book three of the series, and I'm still interested. At this point it's more obvious that the main point of the series is the space combat. If you're c...moreBook three of the series, and I'm still interested. At this point it's more obvious that the main point of the series is the space combat. If you're coming to it looking for the kind of extensive character development and non-military secondary plot you get in Elizabeth Moon's or Lois McMaster Bujold's books, you're better off looking elsewhere. I don't mean that the characters are cardboard or that they don't have personal interactions, it's just that this part of the story takes up very little space in the book. I'm still not sure what's going on with Geary's interactions with Captain Desjani, who commands the flagship from which Geary directs the fleet. Desjani has a serious case of hero worship for her captain that makes their personal relationship slightly one-sided, though it's also clear she's developing more personal feelings. Geary's relationship with Co-President Victoria Rione is even more complicated, despite his freedom to pursue that relationship because she's not under military command. I like both these women, but I'm not convinced that either of them makes a good romantic partner for Geary. Fortunately, there are three more books for this triangle to finish playing out.(less)
Book four. I'm thinking it might have been a bad idea to read so many of these within hours of each other; it made sense at the time, with Courageous...moreBook four. I'm thinking it might have been a bad idea to read so many of these within hours of each other; it made sense at the time, with Courageous ending at a pause right in the middle of the battle, but I started to get that sort of overwhelmed mental constipation that...okay, that could just be me. Still.
I have the feeling that this book and Courageous are really one long book, and not just because of that not-really-an-ending. Stuff that's brought up in Courageous gets resolved in Valiant, and resolved well. (view spoiler)[Desjani finally gets over her hero-worship attitude toward Geary, and the two finally realize there's a lot more between them than friendship and respect. They still can't do anything about it, but it gets them looking toward a future that isn't about constant warfare. And in my judgement, Rione displays an even greater sense of honor by leaving Geary rather than staying in a one-sided relationship, even though her feelings for him aren't as purely physical as she always claimed.
Some other things I haven't talked about before, even though they're in the other books as well: There's a perfect sexual egalitarianism in both the Alliance and Syndic fleets that reminds me most strongly of the Vlad Taltos novels by Steven Brust, and Campbell has a lot of strong, intelligent women to match his strong, intelligent men. Rione in particular is a tough and uncompromising person who's given up a lot of her own desires in the service of the Alliance, but she's not terribly sympathetic, but as the romantic tension heated up, she didn't get turned into a shrill harpy to make Desjani *more* sympathetic by comparison. And Desjani is a bloody-minded fighter even as she's learning a different way to fight from Geary. Very interesting.
Finally--I wrote in my review of Courageous that there wasn't a lot of non-military B plot going on, but in Valiant that balance is more than restored. One more thing to indicate the two volumes should be considered a single part of the story. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
It's book five of the series and the Alliance fleet is within spitting distance of home territory, if anyone in the fleet could spit several dozen lig...moreIt's book five of the series and the Alliance fleet is within spitting distance of home territory, if anyone in the fleet could spit several dozen light years away. This was the first time I really felt that the fleet was in dire straits in terms of resources; they're limping along on 35% fuel reserves, the auxiliaries are having trouble keeping up with the weapons needs, and at this point I began to wonder if Jack Geary was going to come into Alliance territory with a fleet at all. (view spoiler)[Yes, he does. (hide spoiler)] Despite this shortage, the story's tension comes more from rooting out the remaining traitors within the fleet and dealing with further revelations about the unseen alien enemy. Overall I'm satisfied with this book, though I didn't care for it as much as the earlier volumes, because....
(view spoiler)[As much as I enjoyed the plot in the abstract, I didn't think it was as well executed as it should have been. We got hints that the treason coming from within the fleet was being directed by someone who was lurking in the shadows, but when those people are revealed, they're small potatoes compared to people like Falco or Numos or even that slack-jawed yokel Yin. It was anticlimactic. I'd half expected the last traitor to be someone Geary trusted, specifically Duellos, which would have made me sad, but would have been suitably dramatic.
And the Geary-Rione-Desjani relationship has the marks of something Campbell changed his mind about over time. Desjani has turned into a completely different character--don't get me wrong, I like her just fine as the assertive non-starry-eyed equal to Geary, but I would have preferred to see her be that person from the beginning. I'd also bet that Rione started out as a more serious possibility for Geary's true companion, but was simply too brass-balled and outside the military mindset; by the third book there was simply no way they could have stayed together. Again, I'm liking the way it's turning out, but I like even better a series that has better continuity. (hide spoiler)]
Rione is still one of my favorite characters, though I have the feeling I'm not supposed to like her. She's a good contrast to the officers and their concept of honor, because she sees things differently but still has her own honor, and the fact that most of the fleet doesn't believe she does makes me sympathetic to her. When it comes to the final battle in this book, she plays a crucial role that finally makes the officers realize that maybe a politician doesn't have to be a back-stabbing, conniving, two-faced liability to the cause; to paraphrase another famous captain, if Rione is going to stab you in the back she'll have the decency to do it to your face.
I am so impressed with the religiosity that pervades the series. This volume isn't any more or less an example of that, but this is as good a place as any to talk about it. The idea of an entire culture that is unashamed of its spirituality, a culture in which believing in an outside Power is not incompatible with being scientifically minded, is sort of refreshing. I'm also surprised that Campbell allows his characters not only to worship, but to receive guidance from their ancestors. I don't know how this would look to a non-religious person, but I thought it was clever and heartwarming.
The final book will be a different kind of battle, and I'm interested to see what happens next.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Victorious is a good conclusion to Jack Campbell's The Lost Fleet series, turning it from being about a war against a human enemy to being the beginni...moreVictorious is a good conclusion to Jack Campbell's The Lost Fleet series, turning it from being about a war against a human enemy to being the beginning of a conflict with an alien one. There were a few times that that turning point felt a little anticlimactic because almost all the fighting that brings an end to the war happens in the first five books, but the final battle in the Syndic home system was plenty serious enough to at least make the Alliance victory satisfying. Although (view spoiler)[seriously, John Geary, alien ships pop up on your radar and multiply in the blink of an eye and "false image" *isn't* the first thing that comes to mind? I'll give you the insanely fast maneuvering, but really, I'm almost embarrassed for you (hide spoiler)]. I also don't really care about the resolution of Geary and Desjani's relationship, mainly because Campbell had to do a lot of retconning after book two to establish that it even existed. I think I've been waiting, all along, for them to finally get together and move on; I expect the sequel series to be more satisfying in that respect. (I don't consider this a spoiler. You all knew it was coming.)
Victorious was good on its own, but I think it's even better as a lead-in to the next series, where humanity (led, of course, by John Geary, and they're lucky to have him) goes head-to-head against the aliens that effectively started the Alliance/Syndic war in the first place. Assuming that the aliens have heads, or bodies of any kind, because otherwise humanity is going to have a hard time finding a place to kick.["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Like Tongues of Serpents, Crucible of Gold is much shorter than the other Temeraire books. When I first read Tongues of Serpents in 2010, I wondered i...moreLike Tongues of Serpents, Crucible of Gold is much shorter than the other Temeraire books. When I first read Tongues of Serpents in 2010, I wondered if it was the first half of a novel that was too long to publish in one volume, but now it's clear that they're both independent but short novels.
Part of the four-star rating is the very-probably-wrong feeling I have that this book, like the previous one, is too short, but it's really that it feels as if Temeraire and Lawrence have been sidelined...which, of course, they have. The exploration of the alternate-history Incan Empire is still very interesting, particularly the idea that the Incan dragons are essentially owners of the humans. I also like that Iskierka, whose wild nature has been a danger to everyone around her from the beginning, finally goes to such extremes that Granby gives her the metaphorical spanking she really needs. Less pleasant is that (view spoiler)[RILEY IS DEAD! How sad is it that I kept hoping that he'd somehow, I don't know, escaped the explosion and the sinking ship and swam three hundred miles to the mainland...fine, okay, I'm sad and pathetic. But I liked him so much, and he provided an important link between Lawrence and the Navy. (hide spoiler)]
The ending of the novel makes it clear that Lawrence and Temeraire's exile is at an end, and I look forward to their rejoining the war in the next book.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This book has about a million authors, but it doesn't read like it does. It's also got about a million viewpoint characters (well, more like eight) so...moreThis book has about a million authors, but it doesn't read like it does. It's also got about a million viewpoint characters (well, more like eight) so I had my usual negative reaction to being dragged out of one story I loved into another one I wasn't so interested in. In general, I did like most of the plotlines, though I don't care for authors introducing new POV characters in the middle or even near the end of a book; it feels like it dilutes the story. On the other hand, one of those new POV characters became one of my favorites, so I'm not exactly being consistent. There's a lot going on here, and complicated fiction always has a chance of complicating itself right out of a reader's interest, but I think it succeeds as a whole.
This is a book about war--that's really its most notable characteristic. The authors are all, as far as I can tell, interested in medieval warfare and weaponry, and if you care about that, you're going to love this book. (There's a fight scene that goes on for THREE scene changes.) It's a world-spanning book, so you get martial techniques from Vikings and Franks and Mongols and even a lost Japanese warrior. The combinations make for some very interesting fight scenes. Despite all this, the authors haven't lost sight of characterization, and manage to keep their characters distinct and interesting. I'm particularly fond of the Mongol tribesman sent to keep the Khan from drinking himself to death. Now there's a thankless job for you. Kudos to whoever keeps the team's writing styles uniform, and I'm looking forward to the next volume.(less)
I wasn't as excited about the last two books in the series, despite my enjoyment of the characters, because I signed up for Napoleonic War alternate h...moreI wasn't as excited about the last two books in the series, despite my enjoyment of the characters, because I signed up for Napoleonic War alternate history fiction and wasn't as interested in Laurence and Temeraire's wandering around Australia and the Americas. This was a welcome return (at least half of it was) to the War, and Napoleon's aggression on Russia.
The first half, though, is a digression into Japan which I also enjoyed because I like reading about Japanese culture in the 19th century, and Novik succeeds in making her alternate history reflect some of the isolationism of that time. Unfortunately, she also gives Laurence amnesia (he loses eight years of his memory), which struck me as sort of unnecessary to the plot. It effectively resets his relationship with Temeraire, since they've only been together for five years, so we're treated to the poignancy of Laurence having to build a new relationship with his best friend and discover everything, good and bad, that happened to him during that time. (Okay. I admit to being amused at his momentary belief that he's Emily Roland's father.) But that's really all it does, increase the tension in sort of a gimmicky way. It's a relief when his memory begins to come back.
My other problem is the one I've had since book six, which is that the plot has become a series of short adventures strung together like beads, none of which are long enough to support a full novel and each of which is only tenuously connected to the other. This book has two sections, the first being the escape from Japan and the second being Laurence's mission to bring hundreds of dragons from China to bolster the Russian army. Yes, they're connected, but very loosely, and I find I'm dissatisfied with stories that are less plot than mere connected events.
So why four stars? Because, as usual, Novik's characters are superb and her story, irrespective of my complaints about how it's structured, is exciting. We see old friends and make new ones--I didn't think I'd like General Chu much, but he ended up being one of my favorites. And Iskierka, who drove me crazy when she first appeared and now just makes me laugh, makes the first part of the story really interesting. I look forward to finding out what comes out of her and Temeraire's egg--her matter-of-fact revelation that she's carrying it was wonderful. As usual, the relationship between Laurence and Temeraire carries the story in places where it might otherwise sag. And Novik ends the novel in a way that left me eager for the next volume, something I couldn't say about either of the two previous ones. Complaints aside, I liked it very much.(less)
Okay, I have a confession. I didn't read this book for the longest time because the print copy has a picture of some young man who TOTALLY does not ma...moreOkay, I have a confession. I didn't read this book for the longest time because the print copy has a picture of some young man who TOTALLY does not match my image of Shevraeth, staring off into the middle distance as if he has just cut one and is hoping no one notices. My apologies to the young man in the picture.
I love prequels. I love the narrative naivete that has the characters saying things where the reader knows what's going to happen but the characters don't. I love getting a different perspective on later events. There's just something about the structure of a prequel that I enjoy, which is why I was so angry about the renumbering of the Narnia novels that suggests The Magician's Nephew is appropriate to read first. But that's another review.
That said, I had some difficulty getting into this book. Not only is it a prequel to Crown Duel, it's in a sense a sequel to other stories set in this world, none of which I have read, and there were times when I felt frustrated and left out and wondering if I was expected to know this back story. The book skips around a lot in POV, some of which is necessary, some of which contributed to the aforementioned sense of being left out, and there were some scenes I could have done without entirely (especially Senrid and Sartora talking about their mutual history). It didn't help that I was reading the first quarter of the book in very small pieces and lacked the necessary narrative flow.
Once I got fully into it, I was really hooked. I like military fiction and I loved Shevraeth's abrupt immersion in it (yes, I'm going to call him by the name everyone else does, and I haven't missed that this is also the name he's known by all the way through Crown Duel--his identification with the land he's responsible for is, I think, possible to read as a reminder that he's going to be responsible for all of Remalna someday). I particularly like that the story didn't take the route of "new boy gets hazed and then proves that he's the best so they respect him now." Shevraeth ends up being good at some things and lousy at others, and he makes a place for himself mainly by just being who he is.
I liked his inner journey more than his military journey mainly because we get to see how Vidanric Renselaeus became who he is. In Crown Duel we only see the end product, and seen in that isolation he's almost too perfect, too good a strategist and potential king. Here we see his failures and especially the challenges that make him realize that he cannot afford the luxury of not becoming a leader. This is where we see that Shevraeth was turning into the next king long before he realizes it himself.
Shevraeth's relationship with the lovely and talented Senelac was really well done, even though I kept wanting to shake the girl and say "What are you THINKING, this man is MARRIED to SOMEONE ELSE!" because I identify far, far too closely with Meliara. It was just heartbreaking to watch him fall in love for the first time and know that love was doomed--and doomed not because we know (because this is a prequel) that he ends up with another woman, but because he and Senelac simply can't be together because of who they both are. So sweet, and so sad, when he cries because that relationship is over.
One of my favorite parts, and the main reason why I enjoyed the POV-hopping even though normally I don't (and there's a part of me that would like to have seen this a more tightly plotted novel) is the development of Russav, who doesn't get nearly enough screen time in Crown Duel because it's told through Mel's POV. His friendship with Shevraeth is so fun, and Russav is great as a window through which we see Galdran's court. I loved that he came to meet Shevraeth when he was returning home because we got to see more of them together.
I'm positive I'll enjoy this even more the next time I read it. I have the feeling there are things I missed because it is sort of large and sweeping, so I look forward to the next time around. (less)