Thursday, August 30, 2018

Blood of Tyrants, by Naomi Novik

Today I'm looking at the eighth and penultimate book of the Temeraire series, Blood of Tyrants, and this is actually a point where I was outright disappointed in the series. As I've said time and time again the thing I've noticed about this series is that most of the books are similar to the others and most of the time it involves Laurence and Temeraire being tourists in various locations throughout the world. I think it's interesting to see how different cultures treat dragons in this world where humans and dragons coexist, but there was a lot of the series that felt like literary candy similar to the Sharpe series. So I've been giving the series middling reviews because while I liked them and there was a lot that was pretty good, there wasn't anything spectacular to write home about either.

The biggest issue I had with this book was the decision to start the book with Laurence having amnesia, which seems to serve no purpose but create filler. When we last left our characters, the Potentate, Laurence, Temeraire, and the rest of their dragon wing set sail from Brazil to China for an official visit with the Imperial family, Laurence's adopted family, for a potential alliance between China and Great Britain. Along the way the Potentate runs into a storm and ends up washed on rocks off the coast of Japan. Along the way Laurence is washed overboard and wakes up in Japan with amnesia, having completely forgotten the past eight years of his life, incidentally completely wiping out any memory of Temeraire or his service in the aerial corps.

Personally I disliked the amnesia plot because I felt it didn't really serve any purpose in the story. I think it would have been fine to have Laurence wash up on Japan and get the taste of Japanese dragons versus Chinese dragons (although based on what little we got I don't know how different Japan was) before heading onward to China. Instead we have Japanese officials wondering what exactly to do with Laurence especially because he says he has amnesia and the Japanese don't believe him anyway. Really the only thing that the amnesia does is create drama for later on between Laurence, Temeraire, and the other aviators. First there's the drama of Temeraire feeling guilty that Laurence has missed out on all the things he could have experienced with a naval career instead. And then there's the awkwardness around talking about Laurence's past, specifically when he gave the cure to the dragon plague to the French and as a result was convicted of treason. And it felt so tiresome to tread over this ground over and over again.

This is the point where the amnesia plot starts to feel like so much filler because we're going over the same psychological problems that Laurence and Temeraire have gone over before and we resolved them. Now since I have psychological problems myself I understand that deep-seated issues aren't solved overnight, or even solved once and for all. But with fiction it gets frustrating that the characters keep going over the same issues that were resolved in previous books And it feels like Laurence gets amnesia just so we could go over the same ground again, but regardless of whether he'd had amnesia or not, Temeraire felt responsible for losing Laurence's fortune and the need to make it up to Laurence somehow. So there still would have been an issue whether Laurence had amnesia or not.

I say this feels like filler because this book finally returns to the war with Napoleon by having Laurence and Temeraire lead three hundred Chinese dragons to the Russian front to help the Russians drive back Napoleon. Students of history will of course recognize this is Napoleon's 1812 Russia campaign, widely regarded as the major reason for his empire falling. When we leave our main characters the outcome of the Russian campaign is in doubt, the Russians and Chinese have been driven back, their lines of supply destroyed, and despite all their efforts Napoleon appears to once again have the upper hand. With winter setting in, the situation looks desperately grim for the coalition powers. But for me it didn't feel like a natural stopping point in the narrative and now I'm worried that the end to the Russian campaign in the last book is going to be rushed so Novik can put other things in. Maybe I'll be wrong but we'll have to find out.

Honestly, the amnesia plot is my biggest complaint because it doesn't seem to serve a purpose beyond filler. Especially when we've gotten this deep into the series and are on the cusp of wrapping everything up once and for all. The rest of the book feels a lot like the rest of the series so it's fair to middling, I just think Novik could have used time more profitably.

- Kalpar

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