Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik
Might contain spoilers.
This is a superb story that feels like three books in one: Laurence and Temeraire separated; Laurence and Temeraire reunited; and Laurence and Temeraire in Russia. Of course, it’s entirely in character for Laurence to hit his head and lose his memory while saving someone’s life at sea. Even knowing that he’ll regain it by the end of the book, however, it’s terrible how deeply he hurts Temeraire by not recognizing him after all the latter has been through to find him again. Speaking of which, Temeraire hearing the faintest sound and swooping in to find Laurence and save him from Lady Arikawa and company is as grand a moment as it is charmingly improbable.
Laurence should really just live in Japan. Their notions of honour above everything else match his own. They provide a new model for human-dragon cohabitation, too: dragons as gods. It fits. Lord Jinai certainly presents the appearance of a malicious, unpleasant god, for all that he’s just doing his duty.
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s the horrific cruelty the Russians practise towards their dragons, hobbling them and leaving them hardly any better off than feral beasts. It doesn’t quite feel right to have Russia be the example of how not to treat your dragons (letting the British off the hook), but I can think of few alternatives that are free from their own unfortunate implications. I’m glad Kutuzov doesn’t demur, at least, when Laurence tells him he must free the Russian dragons from those terrible hooks. How did it take them so long to realize they needed to do it? In contrast, while Napoleon and Murat have ulterior motives, they do free the dragons. The consequences are shocking, but… what else could one expect after such treatment?
On a different axis from these two options, there is American capitalism. The dragons seem to benefit from it. They’re easygoing and laid-back. Meanwhile, Churki’s relationship with Hammond has grown into something sweet despite his best efforts, further demonstrating the merits of the South American style of cohabitation.
Not even Temeraire brings Laurence back to his senses, but the sight of Tharkay immediately restores his memory, eh? What is this if not love:
A man lay upon a cot, his face bruised and battered, his hands curled against his chest bloody; and Laurence knew him; knew him and knew himself.
“Tenzing,” Laurence said, and, as Tharkay opened feverish eyes, went to help him stand.
Mei’s return, her disdain for the
barbarians, and Iskierka’s constant jealousy is most
enjoyable. Her coldness when they discover the opium is warranted: this specific instance might be
subterfuge, but the British have much to answer for. As Temeraire repeatedly states, it’s pure greed
for one tiny island to try to rule the world, and that world has paid the price for it in myriad
Given that Laurence is technically a Chinese prince who plays a pivotal role in history, and considering all the previous attempts on his life in China, it’s surprising that the other factions haven’t sent more assassins after him during his travels. Perhaps Gong Su is quietly handling them, or perhaps they simply can’t keep up—I’m glad someone finally tells Laurence to his face that it’s impossible not to have heard of the man who turns the world upside down wherever he goes. Few people could possibly have traveled that world as much as he has.
General Chu, Shen Shi, and the other Chinese dragons are excellent. The initial progress from
Laurence thinking they had only three dragons at their disposal to having three full
is simultaneously amusing and awe-inspiring. They even repeat the feat in Russia when the Russians
barely believe they exist until they finally make an appearance and very nearly save them. The
general’s contempt for the idea that they need three hundred heads of cattle and Shen Shi’s
unconcerned competence and expertise in matters of meat and grain requirements in the face of the
Russians’ fear are magnificent.
It strikes me that since the dragons evidently speak with their mouths in the same way humans do (damage to the region affects their speech and they draw in breath to speak, just as with humans), there’s no real reason for them to never smile or grimace or make any other facial expressions.
Next in series: League of Dragons by Naomi Novik(#9 in Thoughts & Spoilers: Books: Temeraire (2006))