From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik, Neither Flesh Nor Feathers by Cherie Priest

Empire of Ivory: Temeraire, Book 4, by Naomi Novik
Del Rey (400p) $7.99

The first three books of this series, issued one after another over three months, provided readers with one of the more entertaining fantasy reads of last year. Patrick O’Brian met Anne McCaffrey and we became acquainted with British naval Captain William Laurence, the dragon Temeraire, and the extraordinary dragons of England’s Aerial Corps (and beyond). The concluding pages of the third volume, Black Powder War, introduced a heart-rending plot twist — the dragons of England are dying — that sets the stage for Empire of Ivory. The war against Napoleon isn’t going so well and will go worse if the lack of dragons is discovered. Captain Laurence, Temeraire, and others go off to Africa in search of a cure. Confronted with the bloody reality of the slave trade, Laurence is forced to make decisions concerning his beloved England’s part in the abominable business. A further decision leads to a cliff-hanger ending that will probably leave most readers wishing the next book were only a month away rather than a year. (But, of course, that’s the idea of a series.) Although present in the earlier volumes, themes of honor, integrity, morality, and loyalty are pronounced but presented without overkill. Characters we have been introduced to previously begin to gain dimension as does the world itself. Novik’s novels are fun without being utterly simplistic and they will surely continue to please.

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Neither Flesh Nor Feathers by Cherie Priest
Tor (368pp) $14.95

Priest continues to polish her craft with her third urban fantasy and her heroine, Eden Moore, continues to learn more about her ability to make contact with the dead. This time Eden, presented with some disparate elements must make sense of them. A ghost named Caroline warns her that “they” are coming. The rains come and the river rises and bad things start to happen to people who get too near the river banks. Another ghost leads her to plastered-over Klan murals. The river’s still rising and the people of Chattanooga start acting like people anywhere as they face disaster: scared, stupid, and sometimes brave. Another ghost leads Eden to another clue. Halfway through the book, the reader knows something really bad happened a long time ago, something to do with the flu epidemic of 1919 and a fire and that something really really bad — worse than riots and looting and floods and involving soggy killer zombies — is going to happen if Eden doesn’t figure out how to stop it. Priest makes this all compellingly readable. But after it is all over, there’s a realization that, despite the thrills and chills and epic inundation, Eden and her chums never solved much of anything. In Neither Flesh Nor Feathers, Eden doesn’t unravel a mystery, she’s led to the clues, supplied with the needed information, and draws conclusions in the nick of time. Still, Priest has a knack for spinning a story and most readers will be more than willing to go along for the enjoyably spooky ride.

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