League of Dragons, final installment in Naomi Novik's bestselling Temeraire series, came out over a month ago and no one is talking about it. Given the somewhat poor quality of the last few volumes, this is not necessarily surprising. Still, given the great buzz that surrounded the release of His Majesty's Dragon/Temeraire just a few years back, one would have thought that the conclusion would have created more of a stir within fantasy circles.
Like many people, I used to be a big fan of Naomi Novik and her signature Temeraire saga, and that from before the time the first volume was even published. Unfortunately, the proliferation of sequels whose pertinence seemed questionable sort of killed it for me. There were so many existing storylines to build on to bring back what made the novels so entertaining in the first place, but it was not to be. It is now quite evident that the decision to split this series into nine volumes when there was material for maybe five novels has hurt the overall quality of the books. Which is really too bad, for the Temeraire series used to be a winner.
Over the course of the last four installments, Novik seemed to have grown extremely complacent. It felt as though she was happy to offer simple, lackluster, often formulaic, and episodic works in style and tone that did very little to further the overall plot. Too often, these books felt like interludes while everything else in the greater scheme of things took place "off stage." To all ends and purposes, it appeared that Novik was milking this story all it was worth. Which explains why she could never recapture the magic that made the first four volumes such memorable reads.
So why continue reading this series? Considering that it has been losing steam with every new release, God knows that I've been quite reticent to give each new Temeraire book a shot. It is with no great enthusiasm that I sat down to read League of Dragons, true. But a part of me wanted to know how it would end, and there was always the chance that Novik would return to form and close the show in spectacular fashion. After a slow and rather boring start, Blood of Tyrants picked up speed in the second portion of the novel and continued to move the overall story arc forward with each new chapter. Finally (but was it too late to save the series?), we saw various storylines coming together, revelations were made, and with winter settling over Russia readers knew that the endgame had come. For the first time in a number of years, I was actually intrigued and looking forward to discover just how Naomi Novik would bring this series to a close.
Alas, although it is better than many of its predecessor, League of Dragons failed to recapture the magic that made the first couple of Temeraire installments such unforgettable reads and turned out to be more or less bland and unispired. Definitely "meh" as far as I'm concerned. Sadly, it's the sort of finale that will leave many a reader indifferent. As a matter of course, it's not like we didn't see it coming. But it is a major disappointment to see a series that was brimming with so much potential end in such an uninvolving manner.
Here's the blurb:
The final adventure in the New York Times bestselling Temeraire series that started with the beloved His Majesty’s Dragon which has won fans of Napoleonic-era military history, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels, and Patrick O’Brian’s seafaring adventures. The deadly campaign in Russia has cost both Napoleon and those allied against him. Napoleon has been denied his victory…but at a terrible price. Lawrence and the dragon Temeraire pursue the fleeing French army back west, but are demoralized when Napoleon makes it back to Paris unscathed. Worse, they soon learn that the French have stolen Termeraire and Iskierka’s egg. Now, it is do or die, as our heroes not only need to save Temeraire’s offspring but also to stop Napoleon for good!
The good thing about League of Dragons being the final installment in the series was that it couldn't possibly turn into yet another uninspired travelogue chronicling Laurence and Temeraire's journeys around the world. Indeed, all the disparate threads introduced in every book come together at last, setting the stage for the final showdown against Napoléon.
Japan notwithstanding, I've always loved the author's depiction of the various locales the characters visited. With an historian's eye for details, Novik's depiction of China, Australia, the Inca Empire, Brazil, etc, made for an evocative narrative. She has always excelled at that, and this book is no different. Although worldbuilding plays a very minor role in this one, Novik's prose continues to give life to an arresting imagery.
The characterization, which was decidedly subpar in the last two volumes and left a lot to be desired, is much better this time around. For the most part, the problem stemmed from the fact that the supporting cast brought little to nothing to the tale. But with the endgame in sight, so many familiar faces make appearances and plotlines are resolved that this was my favorite aspect of the novel. A new dragon is also part of the story, one that creates a number of complication for Temeraire, Laurence, and their allies.
Problem is, for those readers who, like me, have stuck with this series for a decade, chances are you'll be disappointed, and even feel a little cheated. It's been a very long journey and we have been waiting for a long time to witness the culmination of a panoply of plotlines. And even though League of Dragons does offer closure in various forms for many of those storylines, others are inexplicably ignored or glossed over. Chief among them the long-awaited showdown between Lien and Temeraire, which is not part of the narrative. Given that fans have been waiting for this moment since the second volume, I truly felt cheated that Novik simply elected to skip to the aftermath and rob readers of the grand battle they have been eagerly expecting for years.
I'm pleased to report that the pace is rarely an issue in this one. While the last five books were plagued by filler material that often slowed the rhythm and bogged down the narrative, League of Dragons is more fluid in that regard. Mind you, there is some filler between the covers, but nothing that really hurts the reading experience.
And then, you reach the end. And it's okay. Not good. Not bad. Just the end. Truth be told, I was expecting much more of a pay-off. Granted, it is exactly the kind of ending that makes sense and can be woven to fit into true history. And yet, I was expecting something more. Something that would pack a punch. Something that would elevate the Temeraire series to another level. After all, the first four books revitalized the genre. Sadly, in the end, Naomi Novik wasn't able to write a grand finale that lived up to the expectations generated by the earlier volumes. The magic is long gone, lost along the way as unnecessary sequels featuring filler instead of killer material kept being published. Very few fantasy series showed this much potential early on. Hence, it is regrettable to see this one end in such an unremarkable fashion.