Review of League of Dragons by Naomi Novik
League of Dragons
by Naomi Novik
So here we are, over 2 years after I read Blood of Tyrants: the last Temeraire novel!
It’s times like these I always want to take a deep breath before I dive into writing this review.
Let’s get the verdict out of the way: League of Dragons is a good conclusion to the series, but it is not without its strange elisions. Naomi Novik proves up to the task of wrapping up her sprawling and epic alternative history of the Napoleonic Wars (plus Dragons!). In so doing, she reprises the characterization and charm that has suffused this entire series since I started it 8 years ago. These books are damn fun to read, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.
Laurence and Temeraire are in Russia, pressing Napoleon on the Prussian front with their allies. Soon, they are flying across the world to rescue Temeraire and Iskierka’s egg, however, from Lien’s clutches. After a series of events I won’t spoil here, our buddy cop protagonists end up pressing Napoleon to the brink of defeat. Do they win? How much does Novik depart from established history? I’m not going to tell! I shall limit this review to my observations on this book and the series overall, spoiler-free.
Let’s start with the obvious: Laurence and Temeraire. This book is our last chance to see them in action together, and I love it. There is a certain depth of trust here that is a nice contrast to the events of the previous book, when they hardly knew one another. Yes, they don’t always do what the other expects or desires, as both of them demonstrate at different points in this story. Yet they always find their way back to the other again. This is a love story in the strongest, richest sense: a love story of family bonded by mutual trust and aid, not blood. Laurence and Temeraire’s love is the strongest love there is in this series, and it’s beautiful.
Laurence’s growth over the past 9 books is on full display here. From stuffy Navy captain from a somewhat well-off family to traitor and now to … well, no spoilers … Laurence has had his share of ups and downs. He has gradually come around to the idea that dragons are intelligent creatures deserving rights commensurate to human beings. It’s cool to see how his tireless championing of such rights, and the impact he and Temeraire have had on European attitudes towards dragons, all come together in this final book.
League of Dragons is probably too short to ever fully satiate my need for closure with this series. Novik seems to be aware of this issue, for she does her best to draw together many of the threads began in earlier books. We at least hear about the Incas, the Tswana, China, etc. We are left with a likely trajectory—the title of the book is a hint—along with the promise that there is still more, always more, left to accomplish. I love the little hints that the Industrial Revolution is approaching, particularly Perscitia’s ruminations over cannon that will fell even the mightiest dragon in a single shot. There is a richness to this world that, after so many novels, is so evident in every page and every exchange.
Four hundred pages is just not enough! I want to know what happens to all the side characters! Moreover, while I’m satisfied with the overall conclusion to the story, I am very disappointed by the climax. Without going too far into spoilers here: Lien plays a very small role in this book, and after building her up to be this master strategist, we see precious little of her in League of Dragons. It’s perhaps the one bit of closure I really miss from this book.
So, where does that leave us? I already rendered my verdict up top, and I’m not about to betray you now. If you have stuck with this series, you will not be disappointed. I suspect that, like me, you’ll find that some aspects leave you wanting more, both in a good way and a bad way. Would I read more books in this series? Hells yes. Maybe a spin-off set fifty years in the future, at the height of industrialization? (Dragons do live a long time after all.) However, I know that Novik has moved on to writing other, different fantasy series—and I’m all for that too.
It’s always bittersweet when a long-running series of books comes to an end. All I can say is that I’m happy I have these to return to, any time I feel like wrapping myself in the warmth of the relationship between Laurence and Temeraire, and distracting myself with this alternative history of the nineteenth century, but with dragons. If any of this sounds appealing to you, I can’t recommend this series enough.