Tongues of Serpents: Naomi Novik

★★★½

Temeraire: Book VI

Speaking of dragons, it’s been ages since I caught up with Temeraire and his captain Laurence in Naomi Novik’s lovingly-created alternate Napoleonic history. Luckily the library had just the right book at the right time and so I plunged in with gusto. Novik’s novels choose a different part of the world each time, to add variety both to the adventures and to the kinds of creatures we encounter: for this is a world full of dragons, serpents and other strange creatures. And our heroes’ current location is home to some of the strangest creatures even without the blessing of fantasy: as the curtain rises, we find gentleman and dragon newly arrived in Australia, exiled as punishment for their supposed treason. But it’s a sensitive time in the colony and the sudden arrival of two dragons (not to mention three soon-to-hatch eggs) adds a new frisson to the prickly aftermath of the Rum Rebellion.

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The Strays: Emily Bitto

★★★★½

The Strays has enjoyed great success in its native Australia and it’s easy to see why. It brims with the ribald, feverish glamour of bohemian life, seen through the eyes of a narrator who grows to adulthood on the margins of an exotic world so very different from her own humdrum existence. Romantic and poignant, it manages to feel much larger than its slim size would suggest. There are hints of Brideshead Revisited, of The Secret History and The Lessons, of A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book and, like Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, it focuses on an intensely-rendered, many-layered picture of adolescent female friendship. It’s a stunning debut.

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