Blood Of Tyrants (Temeraire book 8) by Naomi Novik (book review).

February 16, 2016 | By | Reply More

To combine fantasy and historical fiction is not the easiest of tasks, not simply because you have to satisfy the demands of the fantasy fan and the history fanatic. The result must, by definition, be an alternative history but that doesn’t mean that historical inaccuracies can be allowed to flourish throughout. Those with the skill will adjust history to take account of the fantasy elements. The two favoured tropes are vampires and dragons. Jasper Kent has dealt with the vicious vampires in the time of the Romanov Russia in his ‘Danilov Quintet’. Naomi Novik does dragons. She is not the first, she won’t be the last.

BloodOfTyrants

In Novik’s past, dragons are a feature of the landscape. In her first novel in this series, ‘His Majesty’s Dragon’, we were introduced to Temeraire, who turned out to be a rare, Chinese Celestial dragon. When he hatched, he was on board a British naval ship and decided on the captain, Will Laurence, as his companion. Thus he became a fighting member of the British Aerial Corps, which at the time was fighting against Napoleon. The British treat their dragons as flying warships.

Over seven novels, Temeraire and Laurence have visited a number of countries and all habitable continents and discovered dragons on all of them. The circumstances of the beasts and their relationships with humans have differed widely and it is to be noted that dragons are highly intelligent. Always, though, the war with Napoleon and his desire to rule the world lies in the background.

At the end of the seventh novel, ‘Crucible Of Gold’, Napoleon has married an Incan princess and won the aid of the South American dragons. Temeraire and the rest of the British dragons have sailed in a specially built sea transport for China. Just before the start of ‘Blood Of Tyrants’, the ship encountered a Pacific storm and been grounded on the rocks off the coast of Japan. At this time in history, Japan is going through its isolationist period and has only just allowed Dutch traders to dock in Nagasaki. In the aftermath of the storm, Laurence was swept overboard. Everyone except Temeraire is sure that he is dead but the immediate problem is to get the ship off the rocks and find somewhere to make it sea-worthy again. During the process, Temeraire has a run-in with an ancient Japanese sea-dragon and then almost loses his life levering the ship free of the rocks. Thus he is unable to hunt for Laurence as he wants to.

Meanwhile, Laurence has been washed ashore but has lost the memory of the last eight years. Not only does he find himself in a hostile place, where death is the usual reward for any non-Japanese found in the countryside, but with no recall of his life as an aviator or Temeraire. It is only because the person who finds him has taken a vow to assist the first person he meets on the road, that Laurence survives. Even when he is reunited with Temeraire, his memory remains missing.

This book is really three shorter pieces housed within the same covers. The first section details the events in Japan where they encounter the water-dragons, the younger ones of which live in rivers. One takes a shine to Laurence because she likes poetry and Laurence can recite Shakespeare. The second part takes them to China. For much of this section, Laurence’s memory remains missing but, instead of staying in the city which is adapted for dragon-kind, the British contingent are sent out to subdue rebels who are deemed to be behind the assassination attempt on the life of the Crown Prince. Here we see the organisation of the Imperial Aerial Army. Three hundred dragons are led by a dragon general and have sophisticated means of supplying the forces with all their needs without stripping the countryside. That sorted, Temeraire and Laurence, now with his memory restored, head off to Russia. Napoleon is marching on Moscow. They find that Russian dragons are extremely bad-tempered and have to be bribed with piles of gold in order to fight. Those in the breeding grounds are starved and pinioned so that they cannot fly off, a practice that Temeraire insists is not only wrong, but must be stopped. That is not as easy as it sounds.

Much of the path of the authentic history of Napoleon’s foray into Russia is accurately described, though our history books neglected to mention the dragons on either side or the reinforcements from China. This is fine, being part of the tradition of alternative histories. The depictions of the dragon communities under the various regimes is well thought out and described. The problem is that while each of these sections makes for a good story, the fact that three are crammed into one book forces something out. It would have been better to spend more time in each, to really get to know the cultures of human/dragon interaction. Readers of the earlier books will be familiar with the systems the British contingent use in employing their dragons in battle. This tends to be skimmed over here and the actual sizes of the animals isn’t really apparent, although Temeraire is really big.

This will be a popular book amongst fans of fantasy, history and dragons but Novik has done herself and Temeraire a disservice by telescoping three stories into one. Perhaps the next one will allow the space for a more in-depth adventure.

Personally, I am getting a little tired of Russia as it seems to be dominating both TV and SF/fantasy literature at present. I now know enough of Romanov history to keep me going for a good while. History and dragons can still be innovative.

Pauline Morgan

February 2016

(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books, 2013. 432 page hardback. Price: $26.00 (US), $29.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-52289-4)

check out websites: www.delreybooks.com and www.naominovik.com

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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