League of Dragons by Naomi Novik
Might contain spoilers.
The last two books were exceedingly gripping and hard to put down. This one is even more so; in that sense, it makes for an excellent climax. As I reached the last chapters of the book, I kept wondering how Naomi Novik would end the story with so little space left. I never would have expected Anahuarque’s betrayal.
It’s a lovely touch to have the actual Temeraire give them a salute as they overfly it. I thought Laurence and Temeraire would be truly, intentionally parted for the first when Temeraire flies back to find the egg. I have no idea how they’re suddenly reunited, but I’m relieved it didn’t last. Of course Iskierka would follow them and ruin their plan. This series certainly has a great deal of imprisonment. The duel at the beginning is done very well, what with Will being taken out of it when he’s shot and us only hearing the conversation and sounds from his perspective.
The dragons’ possessiveness shines here, always in a hilarious fashion, as with their jealously
guarding the lanterns that Temeraire spontaneously bestows upon them. Temeraire and Laurence’s
scheme to make them want to obey orders, although I don’t quite understand the details of how the
charqui and the Commissariat come into it. Fidelitas being so
mortified by Poole’s
behaviour as to shush and hide him during the discussion of the shares had me in splits, along with
Cavernus’s pointed remarks and the other dragons
edging their captains to the sides of the
Poole and Swindle are genuine (minor) villains. Fie on the people in the charge for saddling Laurence with hostile soldiers. Even their dragons find themselves forced to disobey their masters to do the right thing.
Sadly, no matter how much I enjoyed this book, it doesn’t satisfy as the conclusion to the series. Too much is left unresolved. I understand wanting the end of the war to be the end of the story, but it needed two or three more chapters at the very least. It’s not enough to know the lot of dragons has slightly improved. I needed something like an epilogue, set years later, to show things had changed significantly. After all, Temeraire’s Russia still… well, still exists, complete with its barbaric treatment of dragons. And it would be harder for dragons to obtain their rights after the war. What about the Tswana? Are they simply going to leave and satisfy themselves with keeping white people out of their country? What about reparations? Are they content with having attacked the ports and taken a few people from South America?
I was disappointed not to see Maximus, Lily, or Excidium. They’ve all hardly had a role since the
fifth book. I would have liked to know more of
Catherine and her
egg after it hatched, especially now that it’s apparent Riley really is,
sadly, dead. Ning, too—she’s a fascinating character, but we have no idea what motivates her or what
her intentions are, only that she refuses to divulge anything!
What about Junichiro? Was his only purpose to help Napoleon get the egg, after all the dark conversations about honour and duty he had with Laurence? At least Tharkay finally gets the life he deserves. Too bad he and Laurence don’t share it. (Speaking of which, it’s amusing to see the exceedingly careful choice of words when Will and Jane… reconnect.)
And finally, what will happen with Laurence and Temeraire? They started as a fresh, unqualified aviator and his newborn dragon. They finish as an Admiral and (technically) a Commodore, respectively. Now they’ve retired. What is Laurence going to do, live as a civilian fighting for dragons’ rights? And Jane? I’m glad they’ve reconciled—not that she ever showed any signs of being on the outs with him—but she refused to marry him earlier, and is staying in the Corps, so far as we know. Where does that leave them?
There are so many episodes throughout the series similar to everyone chasing the girl at the beginning of this one until Dyhern marries her: they feel like they’re leading somewhere but end abruptly. If League of Dragons had properly concluded only the major stories, or at least spent a little time on them after the war, I might have still craved resolution for those smaller stories but the book would have done its duty. Not so, unfortunately.
The entire series smartly distracts readers from the duality of the dragons. They are sweet, funny,
kind, and seemingly uncomplicated. They’re also terrifically destructive creatures who tear into
enemies, smash other dragons into the ground or fatally wound them in other ways, spit acid, breathe
fire, create the
Divine Wind, and swallow whole cows or sheep in single bites.
The duality extends to the war in general. Almost every character hates killing, but dragons practically live to fight. Attempting to gain a sneaky advantage is normal and expected, yet honour must be maintained at all times.
I still don’t quite understand how big dragons are: Temeraire in the first book is described as matching the size of a ship. Ning in this one is bigger than three elephants while still being a lightweight. They even haul elephants around with some difficulty in Empire of Ivory, and a young sperm whale in Crucible of Gold. But if they are so monstrous in size, how can they make camp close enough to one another for humans to communicate? How do they stay aloft? How can they ever sneak up or be camouflaged?
- At first I thought they were selling supplies, then I thought they were giving supplies to the dragons, and now I’m simply confused.↩