A few weeks ago, the Napoleonic Wars came up in conversation, as they do, and I started to add a pertinent historical detail…only to suddenly doubt its accuracy. I couldn’t remember whether it had happened in the “real” war or the “Temeraire” war and eventually had to turn to Wiki to remember which version was fact.
One of the areas where fantasy authors often fail is in their worldbuilding. No matter how exciting the plot is or sympathetic the characters, if I don’t believe in their world, I find myself let invested in the story. With the Temeraire novels, Naomi Novik takes on the added challenge of inserting her fantasy world not only into our real world, but into a major moment in our history. Yet she flawlessly weaves the real and the imaginary together into a breathtaking epic. With each new book, you expect to have gotten used to her ideas, but Blood of Tyrants plunges you right back into the wonder and amazement. I walked away once again with a feeling that history had been rewritten and that I will never again be able to read about the Napoleonic Wars without a certain degree of disappointment in their lack of dragons. And, barring the dragons, a certain amount of doubt about which I’m remembering as “real.”
Blood of Tyrants is the penultimate book in the series. By this time, most series would have fallen into a recognizable book structure. You know, like Nancy Drew. We expect the mystery to start in chapter two, a warning to be delivered in chapter five, and Nancy to get kidnapped, run off the road, locked in or similarly imperiled in chapter 20. We don’t really mind the repetition, but we’re also well aware of it. You start to see this in many longer series, and I thought it was starting to creep into the Temeraire series in the last few books. However, Blood of Tyrants completely shattered any patterns by opening with an amnesiac Laurence.
Since this is literally in the first few pages of the book, I don’t really consider it a spoiler, and I suspect some readers might react as negatively to this plot twist as I did…at first. Because amnesia is an overused and often abused plot trick. It’s the only moment in the entire series that I started to wonder if maybe it was one book too long. After all, amnesia? That’s got to be scrapping the bottom of the plot barrel. My knee jerk reaction was so bad that I might have set the book aside for some other day if I didn’t know I needed to review it. But I continued and about five pages later, I was absolutely fascinated by how the amnesia was playing out. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the author who took the idea of talking dragons and made it unique and interesting could take something like an episode of amnesia and turn it into one of the highlights of the entire series. So seriously, keep reading and don’t be turned off by the seemingly obvious trope. Otherwise you’re going to miss out on an amazing ride.
In many ways, Blood of Tyrants seemed like the fastest paced Temeraire book since His Majesty’s Dragon. This chapter of the saga centers on the War of 1812…in Russia. Instead of the fierce navy battles of history, the focus is instead on Napoleon’s land invasion of Russia, and, as usual, Laurence and Temeraire are in the thick of things. And not only did the action and war element feel more like the first few books, so did meeting the Russian dragons. Not since the first trip to China has a dragon culture felt so fundamentally different. If the next book follows through on this momentum, the Temeraire books are going on a bang.
I think of all the big current series I read, this is the one I’m going to miss the most. Honestly, it’s a crazy premise that I think can cause new readers to approach with apprehension, but it’s just flawlessly executed. The consistency of the writing quality, mixed with the ability to still surprise, is rare, and the characters are the sort that remain a part of you even after you set the book down. If you haven’t read this series before, I can’t recommend it highly enough. And if you have been reading the books, be sure to grab your copy of Blood of Tyrants.