I’ve finally figured it out: this is a buddy cop story.
Wait wait wait wait wait—it makes total sense! Think about it. Laurence is the by-the-book, hardnosed detective who has been on the job for years when, one day, out of the blue, this smartass rookie with a talent for learning languages and blowing hot air waltzes into his life. The two become partners and start working cases together, and Temeraire keeps getting Laurence in trouble, but Laurence always has Temeraire’s back—because even if Laurence does value procedure, deep down, his heart agrees with his new partner.
I figured this all out because Blood of Tyrants takes one of the most tired, soap operatic plot devices of all time (amnesia, oooooh, scary) and turns it around and uses it to good purpose. Although the first half of this book still feels a little too long, most of it is actually a pretty good story. As someone who, unfortunately, isn’t sad to see this series end—because it rather feels like it has lost the wind from its sails—this is a much better penultimate story than I was looking for. Naomi Novik manages to remind me why I fell in love with Temeraire and her storytelling in the first place.
As mentioned above, the story opens with Laurence having amnesia after being tossed overboard. This isn’t really a spoiler, I hope, because it is literally in the back cover copy and also on the first page. He winds up in Japan, which is closed to foreigners at this point in time, so that’s rather bad news. Meanwhile, Temeraire is beside himself wanting to look for Laurence, but there’s a dragon transport to fix and the whole closed-to-foreigners thing to be mindful of. The storyline unfolds in parallel for a hundred pages or so until the two are reunited (again, not a spoiler, it’s on the back of the book), though it’s unclear whether Laurence’s memory will ever return. So we have a dude who thinks he’s a Navy captain being told he’s actually an aviator for a very independently-minded dragon. Oh, and they are traitors. Were traitors.
Napoleonic War Facebook status is: it’s complicated.
Oh man is it ever complicated. At this point Novik’s alternate world looks extremely different from the nineteenth-century Earth we’re used to, and that isn’t a bad thing. In particular, this novel gives us tantalizing glimpses into what the American colonies, one place Laurence and Temeraire haven’t managed to end up, are like at this point. We meet a dragon from those colonies who is part-owner of a shipping company. It appears that basically everywhere except a handful of European countries treats its dragons as competent persons, and that’s a subtle but intriguing revelation.
It was also nice to return to China after so long away. We spend less time focusing on China itself and how its dragons and humans co-exist. But there are some nice moments, and of course, a new Chinese dragon general character who accompanies Laurence and Temeraire to Moscow. Chu’s cool.
Once we finally make it to Moscow, the plot really picks up the pace. We see the frustration of trying to account for all the logistics involved in dragon warfare. We see how close these allies come to being defeated, not by superior weapons or numbers on the side of the French, but a simple inability to cooperate and listen to each other. It’s some of your typical military fiction themes, of course, but presented very well. There are a few side-plots to keep things interesting and keep us on our toes, and I like how Novik dovetails them all together towards the end, instead of letting them just lapse.
Laurence runs into Napoleon in person again. And there is an interesting exchange between Laurence and the Russian general towards the end of the book that aptly underscores the entire series, I think: Kutuzov basically accuses Laurence and Temeraire together of having almost as much, if not more, of a world-changing impact as Napoleon himself, what with their abolitionist, pro-dragon politics being spread literally the world over. It’s one of those “huh” moments when the protagonists realize how far they’ve come from the first book when they are pretty much nobodies, and it is a nice chance for the series to acknowledge, without being too meta, how far it has come.
One more Temeraire novel to go. As I already said, I am not sad to reach this point. Blood of Tyrants is another solid entry in the series, so I’m optimistic that Novik can deliver a satisfactory finale. But it’s time.