Given the relatively poor quality of the last few installments, at least compared to the first four volumes, I was quite reticent to give Naomi Novik's latest a shot. But since I've read the entire series thus far and there are only two volumes left, though it was with very little enthusiasm I finally elected to read Blood of Tyrants. And although it is a far cry from the first few installments, this 8th volume is nevertheless an improvement that allows me to hope that the finale will justify my sticking with the Temeraire saga as it went downhill.
Indeed, Naomi Novik wasn't able to recapture the magic that made the first couple of books such original reads, but the last portion of this novel is definitely a step in the right direction.
Here's the blurb:
Naomi Novik’s beloved Temeraire series, a brilliant combination of fantasy and history that reimagines the Napoleonic wars as fought with the aid of intelligent dragons, is a twenty-first-century classic. From the first volume, His Majesty’s Dragon, readers have been entranced by the globe-spanning adventures of the resolute Capt. William Laurence and his brave but impulsive dragon, Temeraire. Now, in Blood of Tyrants, the penultimate volume of the series, Novik is at the very height of her powers as she brings her story to its widest, most colorful canvas yet. Shipwrecked and cast ashore in Japan with no memory of Temeraire or his own experiences as an English aviator, Laurence finds himself tangled in deadly political intrigues that threaten not only his own life but England’s already precarious position in the Far East. Age-old enmities and suspicions have turned the entire region into a powder keg ready to erupt at the slightest spark—a spark that Laurence and Temeraire may unwittingly provide, leaving Britain faced with new enemies just when they most desperately need allies instead. For to the west, another, wider conflagration looms. Napoleon has turned on his former ally, the emperor Alexander of Russia, and is even now leading the largest army the world has ever seen to add that country to his list of conquests. It is there, outside the gates of Moscow, that a reunited Laurence and Temeraire—along with some unexpected allies and old friends—will face their ultimate challenge . . . and learn whether or not there are stronger ties than memory.
Over the course of the last three installments, Novik seems to have grown extremely complacent, happy to offer simple, often formulaic, and episodic works in style and tone. Lackluster every last one of them, these books have done very little to further the overall plot and feel like interludes while everything else occurs "off stage." As I mentioned in my review of Crucible of Gold, it appears that the magic is well and truly gone. And it sure felt as though it would be more of the same, at least in the early portion of Blood of Tyrants.
I'm not sure if the book's beginning was meant to be an homage of sorts to James Clavell's classic Shogun. If that's the case, it was an epic fail in that regard. In the past, I've always loved the author's depiction of the various locales the characters visited. With an historian's eye for details, Novik always came up with an evocative narrative that created an arresting imagery. She has always excelled at that, yet her depiction of Japan was half-assed at best. Given that more than a third of the novel occurs in Japan, let's just say that it was a decidedly inauspicious start for Blood of Tyrants.
Unexpectedly, as it appeared that this novel would, like its three predecessors, be mostly filler material, with an uninspired travelogue chronicling Laurence and Temeraire's various journeys making for a large chunk of the page count, after a slow start the sequence taking place in China gets the ball rolling and we see shades of earlier works, those which allowed the Temeraire books to revitalized the genre. As the action travels to Russia, all of a sudden the plot is moving forward and the pace increases.
Laurence's loss of memory is a nice plot device that really turns the story upside down for a while. I used to find the relationship between Laurence and Temeraire and the rest of the dragons to be engaging, yet I fear that somehow this got old a few books back. And yet, Laurence's amnesia has repercussions on every facet of the characterization and was a welcome change. Sadly, the supporting cast brings very little the tale.
Following a slow and rather boring start, Blood of Tyrants picks up speed in the second part of the book, and continues to move the overall story arc forward with each new chapter. Finally, we see storylines coming together, revelations are made, and with winter settling over Russia readers know that the endgame has come. For the first time in a number of years, I'm actually intrigued and looking forward to discover just how Naomi Novik will bring this series to a close.