Crucible of Gold is about a British captain and his dragon who travel to South America to preserve existing alliances and establish new ones for the British crown. Crucible of Gold is the seventh book in the Temeraire series, which takes place during the Napoleonic Wars. The main character is William Laurence, a former captain in the British Royal Navy and companion to a rare Chinese Celestial dragon named Temeraire. The previous book, Tongues of Serpents, took Laurence, Temeraire, and some new-found comrades in arms to New South Whales, where Laurence and Temeraire decided to create a home for themselves. This peaceful life is disturbed in the beginning of the book when a diplomat from England arrives with an urgent assignment for the unruly duo.
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Laurence, Temeraire, and their friends set off onboard a dragon transport ship bound for South America to aid their Portuguese allies who are besieged by unfamiliar dragons. But the fickle sea had other plans for them. The transport ship weathers a week-long storm, only to be sunk by a galley fire set by drunk and undisciplined sailors. Exhausted and desperate, the survivors crammed on board the three dragons with little hope of finding land before the strength of the dragons failed. Finally, at the very edge of their endurance, the dragons came to rest on the deck of a second dragon transport and surrendered themselves to the French captain.
While prisoners aboard the French vessel, the British captains learn of Napoleon's intent to forge an alliance with the Incan Empire, which in Naomi Novik's alternate history is still extant in the early 19th century because their large number of dragons allowed them to fend of European explorers and colonists. To stop them from interfering with his plans, the French captain maroons Laurence and his companions on a deserted island to await pickup upon his return. However, while on the island one of Laurence's officers finds a detailed map in an old shipwreck that allows our heroes to island-hop their way right to the Incan capital at Cuzco, much to the astonishment of their former captors.
At Cuzco, the Brits find themselves immediately embroiled in a political struggle for the allegiance of the Incan Empire. Napoleon, they learn, is courting the empire's loyalty by courting the empress herself. To counter the French machinations, and to satisfy her own vanity, Ishkierka, one of the other British dragons begins negotiations with to have the empress marry her captain instead. This ploy fails and the newly allied Incan and French dragons mount a deadly assault on their British rivals.
Narrowly escaping the Incan Empire with the aid of and Incan dragon, Churki, the three British dragons and their crews arrive in the Portuguese colony of Brazil, where they find themselves in the middle of another battle. With the aid of French dragon transports, dragons from the Tswana Empire in central Africa have made war against the colonists in an effort gain back their long lost families, taken thither on slaver ships. Laurence, having befriended the Tswana in a previous adventure, is able to mediate the conflict between them and the colonists and arranges a solution that is acceptable to both parties. But before he has time to rest, a messenger arrives to summon Temeraire back to China on urgent business. What new adventures await Laurence and his dragon in the Orient? Find out in Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik.
Best part of story, including ending:
This book combines everything there is to love about fantasy with everything there is to love about historical fiction. It's a story about dragons, but it presents them so realistically that you almost forget that you are reading a fantasy novel. Naomi Novik does an excellent job of bringing the real 19th century era to life for the reader, not some idealistic, aristocratic reminiscence. When you read about Laurence's struggles, you feel that you understand the sentiments of people in that time, even if you do not share them. In addition to being almost painfully suspenseful and wildly entertaining, it is also an intriguing alternative history. Just how would dragons have affected early 19th century military tactics? What struggles would they face? How would history up to that point be different if dragons had existed? Naomi Novik presents interesting answers to all of these questions, and it's wonderful.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene is where Temeraire and the others are being pursued by the Incan dragons and Temeraire, unable to flee any longer, single-handedly halts the Incan dragons with his divine wind (a powerful roar that produces sound waves so strong they create physical damage.) I like this scene because up to this point in the book, Temeraire has been feeling outshone by Ishkierka's fire breathing, with which all of the Incan dragons are openly impressed. When Temeraire uses his divine wind, it shows how much more powerful he is than the other dragons. It also shows that his power is growing, because the divine wind he uses in Crucible of Gold is much more potent than anything we've seen him do before.
Opinion about the main character:
Captain William Laurence, having spent most of his adult life in the Royal Navy, has a prickly sensibility and an unyielding since of honor. Above all, he always seeks to do what is right, because it is the right thing to do, which makes him very easy to admire. But he is also a real character, with faults, failings, and vices. Sometimes his different ideas of honor come into conflict and he is forced to navigate the grey space between what he knows to be right, and what his orders dictate.