Tongues of Serpents
The sixth volume of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, released in the United States by Del Rey (a division of RandomHouse) on July 13, 2010. It was released in the United Kingdom on September 2, 2010.
Eight months after the events of Victory of Eagles, in which William Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire, were exiled to New South Wales, the Allegiance, the ship carrying them, arrives in Sydney to find it in a state of lawlessness. The governor, William Bligh, has been rebelled against and overthrown, and he now wishes to use the strength of Temeraire and Iskierka, who journeyed with them along with a group of aviators, to reclaim his position. In addition to this, John MacArthur, the leader of the rebels, approaches Laurence to enquire if he will support his faction instead. Laurence refuses the requests of both, wishing to stay out of the matter.
Before long, Temeraire receives a message from Perscitia when the ship Beatrice docks, telling him of the current situation for dragons in England; they have been ferrying goods for merchants to obtain funds to build pavilions. Also on the ship is Jeremy Rankin; having distinguished himself in the recent war in England, he is to be made captain of one of the three eggs sent with the Allegiance to become to foundations of a covert, an act that alarms the men who know that Rankin’s previous dragon, Levitas, died as a result of his neglect. Despite Temeraire’s attempts to persuade the dragonet to choose another of the aviators when it hatches, it chooses Rankin, wishing to have a person with wealth as its captain. The dragonet then names itself Caesar, and begins to prove itself a match for Rankin.
With fresh attempts being made by both Bligh and MacArthur to recruit the forces of the aviators, Laurence and the others plan to evade a predicted battle between the two factions by charting an expedition over the Blue Mountains to find a place of settlement for their covert, and setting up a road between there and Sydney. Taking the remaining eggs with them, and recruiting several convicts to aid with the work, they begin their journey. Tharkay accompanies them, having revealed to Laurence the true reason behind his journey to New South Wales; he is working for the East India Company to unearth information regarding smugglers, who are damaging the trade and appear to be currently ferrying goods to Sydney. Unless the smugglers are stopped, Britain risks being unable to fund the war against Napoleon.
The initial surveying work runs into problems; the aviators become easily lost in the surrounding area, and one of the convicts is bitten by a snake. Despite these setbacks, the group soon manages to find a magnificent valley already home to cattle, and plans are made for construction; Temeraire considering the possibility of building a pavilion here. Before this can happen, one of the dragon eggs is stolen in the night.
Assuming the kidnappers to be the same people doing the smuggling, the aviators forgo the work in favour of rescuing the egg, and begin conducting sweep searches across the region, stopping to rest at water holes. At one of these, Jack Telly, another convict, strangely goes missing. Unable to find him, they are forced to move on.
Granby decides to return to Sydney to postpone the journey of the Allegiance, and prove that they have not been lost, but plans to return immediately afterwards, using markers left by the aviators. After he departs with Iskierka, the others return to the task at hand. That night, another of the convicts vanishes, and the group flees. A thunderstorm strikes soon afterwards, causing a bush fire. Despite the urgency, it takes time to load all the men aboard the dragons, causing Temeraire to inhale a fair amount of smoke and become drowsy, before finally managing to get to safety. Later, it is discovered that he inhaled embers during their escape, injuring his throat.
After the bush fire ends, the aviators manage to replenish their food stores from the carcasses of the animals unable to escape the fire. While doing this, Demane discovers a group of aborigines, and they manage to learn from them that the smuggled goods are coming from a place in the northwest called “Larrakia”. In addition to this, they find an explanation for the disappearance of the two convicts; a creature known as a Bunyip.
The remaining egg hatches not long after this, but the dragonet is small and stunted, and none of the aviators wish to harness it. Rankin, sure it will probably die, proposes that they euthanize it. Laurence prepares to care for it himself, much to Temeraire’s alarm and jealousy, but before he can, Demane harnesses it with his belt and names it Kulingile. Demane is prepared to care for it until it is well, but it is clear that the dragon’s air sacs, which normally aid in buoyancy, have not inflated, meaning the dragonet cannot fly. To make matters worse, the dragonet eats alarming amounts of food, which Dorset, the dragon surgeon, fears will ultimately cause his organs to be crushed under his own body weight.
Going to replenish their water stores, Laurence and two other convicts see a third being attacked by a Bunyip. They raise the alarm, and when a search is made for the creature, Temeraire discovers a hidden tunnel in the ground, which is excavated to reveal a network of passages. It is soon realised by the aviators that these tunnels have been made around water holes by Bunyips specifically so they can capture prey swiftly and without warning.
The aviators start to destroy the tunnels at each successive watering hole, and erect a barrier around their campsites. One night, Temeraire awakes to find himself sinking into the ground; later realised to be an intentional trap set by the Bunyips, who diverted the water through one of their tunnels. In the struggle to pull Temeraire free and escape the Bunyips; now preparing to attack the campsite, Kulingile’s air sacs inflate. Temeraire is ultimately freed, and the Bunyips flee.
Iskierka catches up with their group, and they continue onwards after the missing egg. However, water becomes harder to find; an action chalked up to Bunyips diverting water springs to dissuade them from approaching. To sate the creatures, the aviators begin to leave the carcasses of hunted animals by the holes.
Reaching the location known as “Uluru”, Temeraire notices a mysterious dragon and several men loading the missing egg onto it. He attempts to signal it with the Divine Wind, but his injuries from the bush fire cause him to falter, and result in him damaging his throat. Despite this, they give chase, but are unable to catch the dragon. Now sure of their path, the aviators follow the direction the dragon was headed in. As they near the coast, Temeraire, who has seen the maps of the Pacific Ocean, wonders if it would be possible to fly across the various islands and to China, but Laurence tells him that it would not be possible. During this journey, Kulingile’s air sacs inflate permanently, and it becomes clear that he will prosper, resulting in the remaining aviators attempting to claim him for themselves, but it becomes clear that he has chosen Demane as his captain.
Reaching the coastline, the aviators discover the source of the smuggled goods; an entire trading port has been set up by the Chinese outside of the British claim of New South Wales. In it, they find that the kidnapped egg has hatched, and the dragonet, Tharunka, is fluent in the languages of the region, having been intentionally traded amongst the tribes of the region while unhatched so as to aid in trading, and that she has no intention of leaving. As compensation for her egg, she gives the aviators a large gift of opals, which Temeraire has added to a new coat as a gift for Laurence.
Having been invited to dinner by the traders that night, Laurence talks with two traders, Jacob Chukwah of the United States of America and Senhor Robaldo of Portugal, and learns of the current status of the war. The Tswana Kingdom have moved north, attacking Spain, and Napoleon has made peace with them, and is now ferrying them to Brazil where they can attack the colonists there. Already, Rio is destroyed. Jacob Chukwah also tells Laurence that they have started breeding dragons in large numbers in the United States. After the dinner, Laurence discovers the method of transport for the smugglers; trained sea-serpents swim between China and Larrakia with the cargo tied to them in watertight containers. After their retrieval, a complex trading system allows the goods to be delivered to aboriginal tribes all over Australia.
Laurence receives a letter from the Jiaqing Emperor, who had learnt of his location, commending him for his actions surrounding the “Coughing Fever”. Temeraire also receives word from his mother, who is glad to know of his location. Before the aviators can return to Sydney with their information, two British ships, the Nereide and the Otter, arrive at the port. The captain of the Nereide, Nesbit Willoughby reveals that he has orders to ensure that the Chinese port is destroyed before it becomes a major threat to shipping.
Having been ordered to avoid the resulting battle, Temeraire attempts by night to find a way to get the British ships to leave; finally settling on using the Divine Wind to make a wave, similar to Lien’s use of it at the Battle of Shoeburyness, but weak enough to merely scare the ships away. He manages to figure out the method and demonstrates it to Laurence, but they ultimately resolve to stay out of the matter. Before long, the ships open fire on the port, but Tharunka retaliates by flying over the ships and dropping fish entrails onto them, which lures the sea serpents to them. The sea serpents cripple the two ships and their crews, forcing the aviators to rescue them by attacking the serpents.
The aviators make the long journey back to Sydney, and arrive to find the harbour full of sea serpents. Lachlan MacQuarie, Bligh’s replacement, has arrived by sea with plans to capture the rebels and send them to Britain for trial. In addition to this, they wish to remove the serpents from the port, and they begin to plan an aerial assault. Rankin is also to be commander of the Australian Corps, something that Laurence finds preferable, as it leaves him far away enough to not be a hindrance. Laurence also receives word that Iskierka is to travel to Brazil, to aid the Portugese in fighting the Tswana Kingdom.
Not long after the departure of Iskierka and Granby, a new rebellion breaks out against the forces of Macquarie, which ultimately lose to the rebels. Rankin prepares to join, but Laurence restrains him from fighting a battle he knows to be futile.
Weeks after the second rebellion, John MacArthur sets himself up as First Minister of Australia, opens the port to the Chinese merchants and offers to pardon Laurence, despite his position not being officially recognised by Britain. MacArthur asks him to become captain of the dragon covert in Sydney, but Laurence refuses, instead deciding to return with Temeraire to the valley they discovered, and build a home there.
For more detail, see Characters introduced in Tongues Of Serpents.
- The dragons depicted on the cover of Tongues of Serpents are that of Temeraire and a full-grown Kulingile.
Deviations From History
Aside from the obvious additions of dragons, the events in Temeraire follow the history of our own world quite closely. However, several differences do occur throughout the series. In "Tongues of Serpents", the following differences occur:
- William Bligh was removed from the office of Governor of New South Wales as described during the Rum Rebellion of 1808. However, no second rebellion against Lachlan Macquarie occurred in actuality. He served as Governor of New South Wales until 1821 and was greatly influential in founding the character of the country that would later become Australia.
- Responsible government was not granted to New South Wales until 1855. Though John Macarthur's talk of such and insistence on "free trade" may be a reference to Henry Parkes who is considered one of the Founding Fathers of the Australian state.
- Historically Nesbit Willoughby was fighting Napoleon in Mauritius in 1809, an event that is in fact noted as being altered by the author at the back of the book.