Naomi Novik's beloved Temeraire series is about to come to an end. Her penultimate novel of the alternate history series, Blood of Tyrants, comes out August 15. In it, we witness some of the last battles of the Napoleonic Wars — from the backs of dragons who aren't just weapons anymore. They're generals.
Spoilers for previous books in the Temeraire series ahead!
Perhaps the most fascinating part of Novik's series has always been the evolving role of dragons. In England, homeland to our hero Captain William Laurence, dragons are treated as chattel. Though they are clearly intelligent, able to speak, read, and reason, English dragons are treated as sentient bombers in the Aerial Corps. But all of that begins to change when Laurence is adopted by a brilliant, fierce and slightly eccentric Chinese dragon named Temeraire.
The two fight in the British Corps, but also travel the world, where we discover how the fate of Asia, Africa and the Americas has been completely altered by the existence of dragon warfare. Each nation has its own ways of handling dragons. In China, they are treated as honored citizens and leaders. Among the Inca, they are the heads of human families. Their existence has meant that colonization didn't quite go as it did in our world. Napoleon, for example, has solidified his political power by marrying an Incan princess.
Laurence and Temeraire become war heroes and diplomats, but they also become civil rights activists. In England, they have become outcasts for insisting that dragons be granted the same rights as humans. At one point, they were even banished to Australia because Laurence rescued foreign dragons from a plague spread by the British.
And yet despite these grand changes to world politics, Novik charms us with her odd insistence that the Napoleonic Wars have raged on, with familiar battles unfolding much as they did in our own histories. Blood of Tyrants takes us to the Russian front, where the British are depending on military aid from the Chinese to defeat Napoleon's forces in the wasted, frozen fields outside Moscow.
There are long battles but there are also culture clashes between the Chinese troops — led entirely by dragons — and the British. (And also, my darling, we'll figure out the best way to deal with those troublesome Opium Wars.) Once we meet the insane Russian dragon corps, there are more problems. It's hard for Laurence to know whom to root for at certain points. After all, the French acknowledge the humanity of their dragons, granting them equal rights; but the Russians torture their dragons with wing hobbles and worse.
In many ways, this novel is about Temeraire finally becoming a true adult. He's already come of age, seen action, and even made an egg with another dragon. But he's never had to take a leadership role comparable to Laurence's on the battlefield. Temeraire's self-confidence will be tested, and he's forced to confront the fact that he can't be his fussy, peculiar self if he's going to lead men and dragons.
If you love these novels, this installment will please you immensely. The final battle scene is a little overlong, but all the intriguing dragon politics are in play, and we even meet old Boney himself.
And if you've never read these novels, now is the time to start. The final novel arrives next year, so you'll have a complete set to devour.