Have you read any of Naomi Novik‘s Temeraire series? No? Sit down and treat yourself to the first one, His Majesty’s Dragon. You’ll stumble in surprise as you read the first few pages, only to find yourself running, tearing through chapters until you’ve finished the first book before you even truly realize you’d begun it. The series is a mad combination of the geniuses of C.S. Forester, Patrick O’Brian, and Jane Austen, and is studded throughout with the strangely fitting addition of dragons. I found it too odd to pass up, and then too good to put down. Blood of Tyrants is an excellent continuation of the series.
I don’t generally like the extensive social intricacies involved in Austen-like pieces, and despite the ease with which I lapse into formal speech while writing, I am no great fan of the obtuse language typical of early 19th century novels. As befits the stereotype, I’m far more comfortable with the action that one might expect from Forester’s Hornblower series. Yet somehow, Novik has managed to win me over. She seems to effortlessly present the complex social maneuverings that go hand in hand with having any hope of being a successful officer in the British military during the Napoleonic wars as a matter of course; what’s more, Novik even manages to use thoroughly archaic sentence construction to better convey her chosen atmosphere without once losing me as a reader.
There have been a few points during the series to date when I have had to force myself to continue reading. For one reason or another (mostly having to do with the story in Australia), I was not as captivated as I had been previously. I had faith, however, that there would be more good material in the works, and that even if the story that Novik was telling at that moment didn’t interest me as much as her earlier work had, there would be more coming soon that I would also enjoy. Blood of Tyrants has rewarded that faith. So before I go on to talk about things that may ruin parts of the book (or parts of the previous books) for you, I’ll leave it at this: Blood of Tyrants is a good sequel, and you’ll almost certainly enjoy it when you get there.
Now then, about those *SPOILERS*
I was a bit skeptical at the start of the book. I’m not spoiling anything to say that it opens with William Laurence having lost his memory, nor am I spoiling anything to say that I was more than ready for the book to disappoint me at that point. Amnesia-based plots have been firmly embraced by much worse media, and used as staples of mediocre TV serials and other telenovelas, to the extent that I find it hard to expect anything good to come from them when I see them being used elsewhere.
Fortunately, I think Novik did a good job with this one. Though you may feel the urge to put palm-to-face as you watch Laurence bumbling about without a clue as to what he’s been doing for the past several years, it’s actually pretty satisfying to see him rediscovering his own competence despite his lack of memory. I also think that the amnesia-plot was almost like cheating: it gave Novik all of the necessary excuses to reintroduce all of the various elements of the story which she had spread out over the previous seven books, and it let us see the main characters react to all of them all over again as they came up. I would even say that the amnesia was, in this case, a better way to do this than simply giving us a longer reintroduction to all of the various troubles that Laurence and Temeraire have faced. Some variation on those reintroductions is necessary in any longer series that doesn’t just expect the reader to have memorized seven books worth of story and characters, and the reintroduction was handled very well despite (or perhaps because of) the occasional cringe-worthy moment.
The rest of the book is wonderfully solid Temeraire-fare, with all the dragons, fighting, social worrying and politicking that you’ve come to expect from the previous books. My only gripe is that it felt like it ended mid-story. You know that you’re doing well when your audience complains that the book wasn’t long enough, right?
I wanted there to be at least another three or four chapters, probably more. You’ll see what I mean when you get there. Instead of wrapping up the story arc that was being developed, Novik left us with a very abstract cliffhanger. She brings the story almost all the way to climax and then teases us by leaving it there, waiting for the next book so that we can find out where she’s going to take us. It’s very frustrating, but I know that I’ll be picking up the next book when it comes out, just like I picked up this one.
One last complaint? The title makes very little sense. I accept that this is often the case, and that authors are generally not in control of any of the branding (marketing, cover art, title) of their books, so I don’t blame Novik. But I do wish that we were able to see the promise of the title actually come into play in the book.
Anyway, despite my grumblings I really did like this book. I just find it harder to tell you about the things that I liked without ruining the stuff that I think you’ll like. Funny how that works, isn’t it. If you like the other books in the series, Blood of Tyrants is totally worth picking up. If you haven’t read the series yet, give it a try. It’s good stuff.