Objectively speaking, the plot of Black Powder War, by Naomi Novik, is probably just as good as its predecessor, Throne of Jade; it just happens to spend more time on something that doesn’t interest me as much. It’s also another journey novel, but without the deep threat to Laurence and Temeraire’s relationship to tie it together emotionally [*]. As a result, though it’s still quite enjoyable, it’s somewhat less fulfilling on its own, feeling more like a transitional piece.
[*] Regarding which I have a LJ post; warning, spoilers for the first two books.
(In case that didn’t make it clear, the three books that have been published close together are not a trilogy, but the first three books in a longer series. See this LJ post by the author for a bit more information.)
Right. So, Throne of Jade was about going to China; Black Powder War is about coming back. And it’s still the Napoleonic Wars (in a slightly alternate version), and the closer they get to Europe, the more those Wars come to the forefront (rather than being background context as in Throne of Jade). Those who wanted to hurry the journey in Throne may well have a similar reaction here: exciting things happen along the way, that are significant for the characters or for world-building, but the journey is tolerably long. When we hit the land war in
Asia Europe, I had to really force myself to pay attention—this is not the book’s fault, when I hit battle scenes it’s my default reaction to flip through trying to figure out who won. (It took going to audiobooks to get me to concentrate on to the battles in Patrick O’Brian’s books.) The battle scenes are quite clear and comprehensible, once I focused, but it’s 1806, and as the historically-minded know, that’s not a great time to be an opponent of Napoleon. Even less so, I must say, with the new elements introduced here . . .
There are bright spots, of course. Just as one example, I absolutely adore a new character who’s introduced near the end. And I’m fascinated by where things might go in the future (I recommend, by the way, not reading the sample chapter of the fourth book at the end, as the book won’t be out for some time). But this is definitely a middle book, with all the perils attendant thereon.
(In a LiveJournal post, cofax says interesting and very SPOILERY things about the three books’ pacing; I don’t go quite as far, but the remarks are worth reading if you’ve read all three books.)