The Temeraire Reread

The Temeraire Reread: League of Dragons

Hello, everyone! Welcome back to the Temeraire Reread, in which I recap and review Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, one novel a week. We conclude the reread this week with a spoiler discussion of the ninth and final volume, League of Dragons. You can catch up on past posts at the reread index (plus my non-spoiler review of this book), or check out Tor.com’s other posts about Naomi Novik’s works through her tag.

I’m so excited that I don’t have to pretend that I haven’t read League any more! (I have been so good, y’all. Not a single hint anywhere!) So gear up for spoilers for the entire series, and let’s begin!

Note: I’m not going to recap the chapters in detail because we’ve all just read them. Instead, I’m going to give a one-line summary of each chapter in a part, for orientation, and then go right into the discussion. Also, I’m so sorry for the ridiculous delay, I was away and then I was moderately unwell for too long—I’m fine but it absolutely wrecked my schedule. I hope the length of this post is some consolation.

 

PART I (Chapters 1-7)

Oh hey, the final version of the book has a map. (The galley didn’t.) Still nothing particular to say about it, though again feel free to point out whatever might be of interest.

Chapter Summaries

  • Chapter 1: Napoleon escapes Russia, though his treasure doesn’t.
  • Chapter 2: In Lithuania, Laurence and Temeraire learn about the overall political situation and about the death of Laurence’s father.
  • Chapter 3: Temeraire throws a dinner for the Russian dragons and sets the local ferals looking for the Prussian dragons held captive in the French breeding grounds.
  • Chapter 4: The challenge: demand satisfaction, or, a depressed Laurence strikes Dobrozhnov, a drunk Russian who wished all dragons would have died in the plague, prompting a duel. A feral tells Temeraire she has seen the Prussian dragons in France.
  • Chapter 5: At the duel, Dobrozhnov fires early, wounding Laurence, and somehow survives despite the collective best efforts of the seconds. While Laurence and Dobrozhnov recover, Eroica and the rest of the Prussian dragons escape and arrive.
  • Chapter 6: Eroica tells Temeraire that Lien has threatened to destroy his and Iskierka’s egg; Temeraire leaves for China without a still-recovering Laurence.
  • Chapter 7: Temeraire is nearly killed by villagers and rescued by Tharkay, who tells him that the egg is on its way to France.

Commentary

So, as I said in the spoiler-free review, I do think this opening is a little slow and is also difficult emotionally, what with Laurence’s father’s death throwing him into another tailspin of regret and depression, which leads him into the duel. It’s all very carefully set up, so I’m not saying that it’s out of character; but I’m not sure it adds much to the big picture in a book that’s already long and a direct sequel to the amnesia book. From a strictly movement-of-pieces perspective, I don’t see any significant difference between Temeraire setting off for China alone or setting off with a non-injured Laurence to save the egg. From a thematic perspective, I’m not convinced that Dobrozhnov’s comments were necessary to lay the groundwork for the proposal to poison dragons later in the book, in light of what we saw at the end of the last book; Kutuzov’s comments in chapter 2 that “Half my officers are of the opinion we should bait them with poison and hunt them all down”; and Temeraire nearly being killed in Chapter 7. So, no surprise I’m sure, I’d have been perfectly happy if the duel subplot had been excised entirely.

(Would it have been too easy and happy an ending if Laurence and his father reconciled? Maybe. After all, Lord Allendale was a jerk who didn’t ever actually like or love Laurence. Does that mean that Lord Allendale had to die at this particular point, when Laurence is already feeling the futility of the war? Nope.)

Also, what was up with the Miss Merkelyte interlude? To me that felt like a bit of soap opera dropped in almost at random, and it was pretty jarring. It was a very pragmatic approach to marriage, which I suppose is useful as a reminder of differing cultural contexts, but since Hammond just did his best to deliberately kill Dobrozhnov for breaking the rules of the duel, with the full agreement of Dobrozhnov’s second, I was already pretty aware that the times, they were different.

(Obligatory Hamilton reference: if you’ve not seen the show, you can see “The Ten Duel Commandments” performed very close to how it’s staged in one of the live #Ham4Ham shows; it’s an intricately satisfying bit of work. I’m not sure it’s a good introduction if you haven’t heard the cast recording already, however.)

Having spoken of Laurence, I should turn to Temeraire. While he is certainly not free from acting on impulse when massively provoked—much like Laurence in this respect, in fact—I’m always glad to see him act with the cleverness and independence that he developed in Victory. A small example is his convincing Laurence to take repayment of the ten thousand pounds, lost so many years ago after Africa, by suggesting that he give it to Laurence in jewels instead; but he also sets the whole Prussian dragon escape in motion when he tries to come up with ways to get the Prussians to come back into the war rather than rely on diplomats. And the scene when Eroica and Dyhern are reunited is just wonderful.

Going back to the start: I thought it was fine to start with Napoleon’s retreat from Russia already in progress. I think the general outcome in our history is probably known widely enough that it wouldn’t be too surprising for most readers, and Victory of Eagles similarly began in medias res, so it’s not unprecedented for the series as a whole. Plus, we already knew from the end of book 8 that Napoleon’s advance was “the great gamble,” so all we really need to know about what happened is Laurence’s thoughts in Chapter 2: “If Napoleon had been able to feed the Russian ferals for another week, if the Chinese legions had reached the end of their own supply a week earlier; on so narrow a thread had the outcome turned.” (The legions went home before the start of the book.)

I was reasonably sure that they weren’t going to catch Napoleon, but I hadn’t even read the jacket copy so I wasn’t positive: there was still a remote chance that they might catch him but Lien might do something or some other problem might arise. Unlikely, I know, and I suspect I’m about the only person who thought it a possibility. It was useful for the next part, though, when they were pursuing the egg; I was shouting “trap!” at Temeraire right along with Laurence.

Timeframe and orientation: it’s the Tsar’s birthday in chapter 2, which makes it December 23, 1812. We are in the War of the Sixth Coalition (quick overview); I believe the coup attempt in Paris is either alternate history or sufficiently minor that it doesn’t come up on a first pass of searches. Assembling the Coalition is made more difficult than in our history because two of the Prussian royal children are hostage in Paris. (I’m puzzled by this divergence, as it ultimately has no effect that I can tell, but perhaps it’s just leftover from an abandoned plot idea.)

Might as well close this part on a little note of humor: Iskierka’s letter in Chapter 4 reports that “I had a word with [Wellington] when I came, about making Granby an admiral, and Wellington said he is quite certain Granby deserves all the honors which a grateful nation might possibly bestow.” I’m sure she didn’t get his full meaning, but I laughed.

 

Part II (Chapters 8-11)

Chapter Summaries

  • Chapter 8: Temeraire, Laurence, Tharkay, Iskierka, and Granby are captured in the Alps attempting to recover the egg.
  • Chapter 9: The French are incubating thousands of eggs; Laurence asks Napoleon to pardon Tharkay for spying, which Napoleon grants.
  • Chapter 10: At Fontainebleau, they meet with Anahuarque, Napoleon, and Junichiro, and learn that Napoleon has given dragons from all over the world the cure for the dragon plague.
  • Chapter 11: Laurence learns of the Concord from Prince Moshueshue; Ning hatches; and they all escape.

Commentary

A pretty packed and whiplash-inducing part—not a criticism, the characters are disoriented for good reason and we’re going along with them, though again I do think the first part suffers in comparison.

While I did expect treatment of dragons to be a major issue in the conclusion of the book, I did not expect the cure for the dragon plague to be significant again. Junichiro says that Napoleon has induced dragons from all over the world to listen to him by “a gift which commands both their interest and respect—the cure of the dragon plague.” Laurence had thought all the way back in Empire that he “could only hope that with the cure established in England and France, the quarrel of the two powers must deliver it to their respective allies also,” and then ordinary corruption would spread it the rest of the way (chapter 17). Thus, I had figured that the plague was no longer an active threat to dragons, especially since it’s been nearly six years since they brought the cure to France. But I think what must’ve happened is that Napoleon sent messengers to dragon populations that had never been exposed and said, there was this plague, the British tried to spread it, here is the cure in case it arises again. (In retrospect, I should’ve realized that active attempts to spread the plague are not necessary for it to still be a threat, given the number of North American dragons we’ve seen in far-flung corners of the world.) I could’ve stood a little more exposition on this, then, but it was a satisfying surprise as a callback.

Also, here is the payoff for Junichiro: his promise to Laurence included nothing about the security arrangements for Temeraire and Iskierka’s egg, and Laurence thinks, without contradiction from the narrative, “His intelligence had undoubtedly been responsible both for Napoleon’s forming the design of capturing the egg, and for its success.” So, all of you who were waiting to find out why Junichiro existed: there you go. (You might not think that was enough, or still dislike him, which is understandable. I get where he’s coming from enough to tolerate him, though I wouldn’t want to sit down to dinner with him or something.) Note that since Anahuarque is still in power at the end of the book, Junichiro may well have succeeded in tipping the balance of power in East Asia somewhat away from China.

Napoleon’s Concord is indeed a work of evil genius, as Laurence recognizes:

It was his stratagem in Russia refined and writ large: he would make all the ferals of Europe into enemies of the very governments who presently fed them in the breeding grounds or ignored their small depredations. That most of those ferals would be slaughtered in reprisal, or starve in the ensuing chaos, he would ignore, save when convenient for him to come to the aid of one or another band, as an excuse for making still more war upon his neighbors.

Certainly one could never fault the scope of Napoleon’s vision, or his daring, as shown by his inviting the Tswana despite, err, Rio. (Attempting to use Laurence as a puppet seems in a different category to me, since he didn’t invite Laurence.) It was really good to see Prince Moshueshue and his cool prudence again, but honestly I lost track of the Tswana until the end—or not lost track exactly, but didn’t spend a lot of time wondering what they were going to do, because there was so much else going on. If I had thought about it, I think the book would’ve given me enough reasons to be uncertain of what they would do: on one hand, egg stealing, which of course the Tswana very strongly disapprove of; on the other, a European power consulting them and offering to defend their right to all of Africa below the Sahara (and Brazil to boot).

Speaking of Napoleon, the first two parts continue to underline the key aspect of his character that will prompt Anahuarque’s actions at the end: his inability to acknowledge defeat. (See the drawn-out course of the War of the Sixth Coalition and the Hundred Days.) For instance, in Chapter 10, he steadfastly avoids talking of the war, and Laurence thinks that “There was something dreadful in this determined avoidance, as though Napoleon could not bear to recognize his own defeat and had instead to delude himself, even knowing as he must that his audience in this case knew the truth.” (And when he does mention it later, it’s only to chastise Laurence for allowing caution to rule him.) Chapter 10 also establishes that Anahuarque is receiving Talleyrand, who Napoleon “publicly called a shit in front of half the Marshals of France” and who Tharkay speaks of as motivated by money and still well-connected among those European nations with which France is at war. Which sets up expectations of a betrayal, which will not … exactly … be the case.

We also get a little more orientation about the overall war while at Fontainebleau: Tsar Alexander did send his troops forward (presumably Hammond’s million pounds came through), and the Prussians are joining the Coalition.

Let’s finish with existing characters before turning to the major new one. Iskierka is herself but more sensible about it, basically. There are a couple of occasions where she tells Temeraire to stop wallowing and be practical, and Temeraire is disconcerted to have no counter-argument. Granby says that “after Salamanca, even Wellington sent us a bullock from his own pocket, and a note I dare say I treasure better than a knighthood: I congratulate you on the disciplined performance of your beast and crew, and it was even more than half-deserved” (Chapter 11). I was initially a little dubious about the idea of Granby’s promotion to Admiral at the end of the book, but that reaction didn’t take Iskierka’s changed disposition sufficiently into account.

A lot of Tharkay in this section, of course; he’d been urgently summoned to Istanbul before the book opened, on what we now know was spy business, specifically persuading “a significant vezir” not to directly oppose any Chinese legions that come overland. But his very success gave one of his cousins, who he is suing, the chance to spread his name a little too widely. We’ll come back to the lawsuit, but I note that Tharkay’s visit to Istanbul was yet another reminder that he is “too much betwixt and between to belong to any settled place” (Chapter 8). (Also, why was I deprived of a huddling-for-warmth scene while they were literally sleeping in a cave of ice without a fire?! “[C]urled almost as awkward as Temeraire over their own knees” (Chapter 8, emphasis added), indeed.)

Okay, what I’ve been waiting for, and probably many of you too: Ning! I laughed so, so hard: she deliberately decided in the shell that she wasn’t going to act like her parents and she implemented that in just the right way to drive them both bonkers—and to show that she’s still clearly their kid. So great. (I personally never entertained the thought that she would join Napoleon while the Coalition was still fighting, the same way I never worried that her egg would be smashed: it just didn’t feel like that kind of series.) I am a little alarmed at her apparent intention to end war by establishing herself as a global tyrant (to jump ahead a little; see her conversation with Perscitia in Chapter 12), but I think the ending will forestall that, considering how many dragons joined the Coalition because they wanted a balance of power.

Also note that Iskierka got what she wanted: an egg with the divine wind and fire, which became companion to the Emperor of China! I’d previously wondered at the geopolitical implications if Celestials and Kaziliks could breed, given the shortage of Celestials. I think it might be harder for China to get Kaziliks from Istanbul once it’s known what kind of heightened offensive capacity that would be enabling, but maybe they’ll form an alliance, who knows. I’m getting very far afield now, almost as far as Perscitia when she tells Temeraire that one day humans “will cast a cannon that can take a Regal out of the sky with one shot fired,” and so they need to plan long-term (Chapter 12). She’s right, of course.

Finally, dragon tidbits: people who wonder about dragon numbers and how they get fed are going to be frustrated by the four thousand eggs, I predict—Granby even wonders at this in chapter 9, then says, “but I dare say he has worked out some cleverness for that, too.” And two breeds out of the Indian subcontinent are mentioned, “Nilgiri Cutters out of Madras” (Chapter 10) and unnamed middle-weights out of Bengal, both of which loathe the British for obvious reasons.

 

Part III (Chapters 12-14)

Chapter Summaries

  • Chapter 12: Laurence is appointed Admiral and fully reconciles with Jane; Temeraire learns of the Concord.
  • Chapter 13: There are two political dinners: the dragons draft the Dragon Rights Act of 1813, and Laurence attempts to soften the aviators he’s been saddled with.
  • Chapter 14: The Aerial Corps, and those accompanying it, depart for the Continent.

Commentary

And here we have the unprecedented break in the three-part structure, which is not the kind of massive restructuring that, say, moving the last Harry Potter book to multiple points of view or abandoning the school year framework would’ve been, but it’s still good that it was done when it was needed.

As the summaries suggest, this section is short but it lays a lot of groundwork and parcels out some of the happy endings early, too. Let’s start with those: Jane, finally! It’s so satisfying to see that she is finding professional satisfaction (she hasn’t had deal with interference “for a year and more”) and making society cope with her as she is—and changing society, too, with those dozen girls applying to the Corps after she held her dinner party (with Laurence’s mother! I wish so much I could’ve seen that), including a heiress.

Oddly, until I read this book (which was before I wrote the post on Black Powder War), I hadn’t consciously realized that their relationship status might’ve been in doubt? Of course she was justly angry with him for martyring himself in Victory, but since then their correspondence has been very friendly. But, as Jane correctly notes, Laurence has more “sensibility” than she does, and there had not been an opportunity before now for the question to really come up. And I love that the scene—the first actual sex scene in the series—is about his abandoning decorum, which “[h]e had been raised on” so “that it should come as easily as breathing even in the face of death and tragedy.” Yes, recognize that it’s okay to put aside this rigid control on your emotions, Laurence, it helps you as a soldier but it also got you shot in a duel because you couldn’t admit to yourself that you were depressed about the war and your father dying.

And so we get an early happy ending, or at least a moment of respite, in Chapter 13: Laurence thinks that “He could never have his father’s pardon; but he had Jane’s, and was content as he had not expected ever again to be.” Even if they’re not a grand romance, they’re still good together and I’m delighted they’re happy. (I also love that he thinks of his mother at this dinner, who had organized her political dinners “more akin to a military campaign than a convivial gathering.” Yes! The non-formal parts of politics are hard work, too!)

In other news related to the Rolands, we get as much resolution on Emily and Demane as we’re going to: Emily has been legitimized and will receive Jane’s titles, and Jane isn’t opposed to their marrying but recognizes the difficulty caused by their future separation (but doesn’t recognize, as Laurence does, the difficulty that society’s opinion will pose). So Jane keeps Demane and Kulingile and sends Granby and Iskierka to Laurence, which may give them more time to forget each other—or not, we just don’t know. They are awfully young and have had relatively little opportunity to meet other people; personally I’d like to think they could make it work, but I think it makes sense that it remains an open question at the end of the series.

On to the military side of things: it would be too good to be true to have Laurence appointed Admiral if it weren’t for (a) the Tsar requesting him, (b) the hope that China will send dragons, which are promised shortly after, (c) Wellington and Jane refusing to have Jane take the command (and how far we have come, that they would rather Jane!), and (d) the Admiralty loading him up with miserably obstructive captains as a precaution against him going completely off the rails (not that this works, as we see in the next part). So this strikes me as plausible, but I can respect if others find it just too much to imagine the Admiralty swallowing.

(Captains Poole and Windle were not named in the brawl at the start of Victory of Eagles, which Laurence remembers them participating in now, just to save you the trouble of looking it up. Oh, and finally Ferris gets reinstated, lifting a burden that Laurence has been bearing for a very long time.)

Moving to the dragons:

Temeraire doesn’t tell Laurence immediately about the Concord because he sees that Laurence is actually happy about being promoted to Admiral (and Jane, not that Temeraire knows that), and so he doesn’t want to burden him. Which is always a tricky thing, to keep stuff from people for their own good, but it was an admirably non-selfish impulse and in context shows that Temeraire is capable of successful independent political action—useful, given the ending! (I went looking for the last time Laurence laughed out loud; in chapter 7 of Blood of Tyrants he is “hard-put not to laugh” at the gossiping dragons, which doesn’t really count; if he laughed since getting to Australia, it’s not mentioned in searchable terms.)

Temeraire manages the dinner and drafting the Bill with the help of Perscitia, of course, and the smaller but still critical help of Ning. (I enjoyed these scenes immensely.) Perscitia is corresponding with John Wampanoag about trade, and I confidently expect them to be sitting atop a global trade empire in a hundred years. Let’s hope her political principles keep her from being evil about it.

Speaking of being evil, as I said above, Ning’s long-term plans do give me some concern, but as Laurence thinks in Chapter 13, her scheming ways might indeed suit her well to be Mianning’s companion, given that he is “much beset by conspirators.” Laurence also recognizes that China and Britain’s interests really only coincide, at present, in getting rid of Napoleon, and it is interesting to speculate how Ning’s presence will affect ongoing diplomacy (Mianning is crowned by the end of the book). She is very opposed to war, at least?

We get two new female crew members for Temeraire: a very young runner named Winters, and Lieutenant Challoner, who is the sibling of a previously-unnamed crewmember who’d died back in the first book at the Battle of Dover. But these welcome additions are also the occasion for a sneaky, sharp yank on my heartstrings: “although it was puzzling Rebecca [Challoner] should have described herself to him as the younger sister, when she was older than Dilly had been; but Temeraire put this aside; he did not like to think too much about the way time passed for people.” Put this together Temeraire’s difficulty in understanding that Laurence’s father died in his bed (Chapter 2), and I really feel that Temeraire’s implacable denial about human lifespans is going to make Laurence’s death even harder for him. I noted in Crucible that Temeraire didn’t want Laurence to be succeeded by his children, but I didn’t say then that my personal belief is that Temeraire will go without a captain after Laurence dies.

On a happier note, we see HMS Temeraire at the end of this section, on blockade duty and firing a salute to her namesake, which is a slight alteration from our history, where she was taken out of service as a warship in early 1812.

 

Part IV (Chapters 15-22)

Chapter Summaries

  • Chapter 15: The Battle of Berlin: the Coalition wins, but Poole (captain of Fidelitas) and Windle (captain of Obituria) deliberately hinder Laurence’s orders.
  • Chapter 16: Laurence distributes prizes to the dragons, as an end-run around their captains to motivate them; a Jade Dragon brings news that Dresden is under attack.
  • Chapter 17: The Battle of Dresden: Laurence’s dragons preserve the retreat, thanks to Fidelitas (despite Poole, we learn next chapter).
  • Chapter 18: The Chinese legions are delayed because Napoleon’s Concord is working; a Coalition officer proposes poisoning all unharnessed dragons in response, but ultimately the terms of the Dragon Rights Act of 1813 are agreed to by the Coalition.
  • Chapter 19: Negotiations and logistics and waiting for the Chinese legions, oh my. (And Talleyrand visiting the camp.)
  • Chapter 20: Napoleon is captured.
  • Chapter 21: Napoleon is given the terms of his abdication and Laurence realizes that he had been betrayed by Anahuarque.
  • Chapter 22: Anahuarque tells Laurence her reasons, which he reluctantly accepts as good, and there are happy endings.

Commentary

Here’s another thing I did not realize was going to be important again: Anahuarque. Because whoa, look at her go.

Or, rather, not go: we know she can act boldly and decisively, but now we see that she has a keen awareness of the risks she runs and what losses are acceptable. And this is entirely in keeping with what we saw in Crucible, because her original Empire is still recovering from massive depopulation. According to The Napoleonic Wars: A Very Short Introduction, by 1813 (where we are now), nearly 50% of the age-eligible men in France were being drafted, and one of Napoleon’s prefects complained that “there will be no one left… capable of procreation and maintaining the population.” Anahuarque would certainly want to avoid that—especially if she could obtain generous terms, what Laurence characterizes as “terms offered to end a war, not ones dictated afterwards by its victors.” (Which will likely help forestall a great deal of political instability.)

So though Napoleon sees it as a betrayal, understandably so, I agree with the narrative that she did the right thing. Again, as is typical of the series, it’s a very generous portrayal of an antagonist, just as the portrayal of Napoleon continued to be.

(I do not think, as Jane and Laurence speculate, that Anahuarque will have him poisoned; at least not preemptively. If he starts getting restive, sure. But it’s very Jane to approvingly remark to Laurence, “That was almost uncharitable: we will make a cynic of you yet.”)

By the way: remember when Lien tells Temeraire what she intends to do to him, all the way back in Black Powder War?

“I will see you bereft of all that you have, of home and happiness and beautiful things. I will see your nation cast down and your allies drawn away. I will see you as alone and friendless and wretched as am I; and then you may live as long as you like, in some dark and lonely corner of the earth, and I will call myself content.”

Except for the “nation cast down” part, that’s what’s happened to her, exiled to the desolate St. Helena with Napoleon. I nearly got chills when I realized that.

Let’s turn to the Tswana. There’s a brief mention in Chapter 12 that Britain has “begun to open tentative relations with the Tswana” (after it finally abolished the slave trade the year before). But when I said, back in Empire, that “I have to believe the Scramble for Africa is going to be severely affected,” I was nervous about saying even that much, because by that point I didn’t just believe it, I knew it. Temeraire mentions reopening some ports to the Tswana dragons, who tell him,

“You do not suppose we are ever going to let any of you slavers back in our territory?”

“Oh!” Temeraire said, a little indignantly; he was not a slaver. “I am sure I have no idea why you wanted to be helpful, then, if you choose to lump us all together.”

Another dragon snorted. “Why should we have helped any of you? We didn’t want this Napoleon running things, and he would have, with a few thousand dragons under his hand. Now the rest of you can squabble it out among yourselves, and leave us alone.”

Which shows again that Napoleon sowed the seeds of his own undoing, and also sets up such fascinating potential for the alternate history of Africa. The whole world looks vastly different from ours at the end of the series, and I love it.

(If you also enjoyed the alternate history aspects here, by the way, you should check out the interactive narrative game 80 Days, which has won a ton of awards and deservedly so; it’s set later, naturally, and has a steampunk influence rather than a fantasy one, but it also is centrally interested in challenging colonialism and giving more narrative space to women and queer people. The writing is beautiful, it’s jam-packed with awesome stuff (the further afield you go, the wilder things get), and it’s more than worth the purchase price.)

I don’t have a lot to say about the obstructive officers, either the unnamed Prussian who proposes killing all the unharnessed dragons or Poole and Windle. They are the cause of one final bit of growth for Laurence, who resolves to actually join Napoleon if the poison plan is adopted. And while the prize-money division scene is rather uncomfortable, I suspect it’s a satire of the Naval prize money system, and it is a logical extension of past dragon behavior.

I also don’t have a lot to say about the nitty-gritty of battles, which are typically exciting. Here are a few notes about dragons: we get a bit of history in Chapter 15 at the Battle of Berlin, when crewed British dragons loop the wings of uncrewed French dragons, a “technique [that] had been used in the medieval age by the dragon-slayers of the Norman court, who mounted on their own beasts had undertaken a ruthless culling of the wild beasts of the British Isles.” It only works here because the French dragons are young and inexperienced, but it’s a pretty brutal image. And hey: Xenicas appear on the page, after not being mentioned since book one! Like Longwings, they require female captains, and they are “the heaviest of the fast dragons” (Chapter 17). Finally, Temeraire’s Incan attitude of caring about his crew results in their increased loyalty, which can only improve the Corps overall if it spreads.

I believe the Reichenbach of the final battle is Reichenbach/Oberlausitz, which is east of Dresden and Bautzen, and which does not appear to have been the site of any significant Napoleonic War battles in our timeline; I wonder if the name was too good to pass up? It takes place shortly after the Battle of Vitoria on June 21, 1813, which was a major Coalition victory in Spain, and which Minnow brings word of.

I love the arrival of the Tswana:

But the movement was accompanied from some distant place over the hills by a steady deep drum-beat, growing louder and louder even above the cannon-roars, a great pounding noise that resonated peculiarly in Temeraire’s skull as it climbed, and climbed still further. The other dragons around him all paused, turning as they looked back towards the French rear. Shadows were forming out of the deep bank of grey clouds to the west, and then the clouds were streaming away as a wide row of dragons was suddenly pouring down over the western slope directly at Napoleon’s rear: dragons in every vivid color, and on every back a drummer sat, pounding furiously to keep the time of their wings.

It’s not “Great horns of the North wildly blowing,” but between the music, the timely and unlooked-for aid, and the sudden dissipation of clouds, well, I might be overreading things because of who I am, but I enjoyed the heck out of the effect, whether or not it was intended as a tip of the hat to Tolkien.

Which leads us neatly into happy endings! (*looks at word count, despairs* Just imagine if I’d done proper chapter summaries!)

Laurence is given a baronetcy; Jane is now a Duchess—she has a coronet, and Tharkay refers to her as “Her Grace.” (In Tongues of Serpents, chapter 3, she writes to Laurence that “it is a great benefit they none of them know whether to say Milady or Sir, and as soon as they have arrived at a Decision, they change it again. I only hope they may not make me a Duchess to make themselves easy by saying Your Grace; it would not suit half so well.” So alas, she doesn’t get that wish, but it seems like her position is strong enough now that she doesn’t need their discombobulation to get things does.)

Laurence gets some quiet closure with his family and Edith, and gets to see for himself how dragons are integrating into Britain’s economic life, with “a thriving clan of Yellow Reapers established just outside Nottingham, who were now a regular sight throughout the city and the surrounding countryside.” And he retires! I don’t know why I didn’t think of that when I was trying to imagine what a happy ending would look like for him; he was so sick of being under bad orders, but hesitated taking a letter of marque to act for themselves, and yet he thought at the start of Crucible that “[i]f nothing else, Temeraire was not made to lie idle, in a peaceful valley at the far ends of the earth.” So I couldn’t see how those would be all reconciled, and here it is: remove themselves from a situation where they’re required to work together and under others’ orders, let Temeraire do what he’s good at, and let Laurence enjoy the peace in Britain, which he has longed for throughout the series (while still helping Temeraire).

And that’s thanks to Tharkay, who is now rich and has a Parliamentary dragon seat on his estates. His lawsuit is the retcon I’m pretty sure I spotted: this book says that he commenced it with “the prize-money paid him, for having recruited some twenty feral beasts out of the Pamirs to Britain’s service” (Chapter 11), which means sometime after Chapter 1 of Empire, where he hadn’t been paid his prize-money yet. The impression given before this book is that Tharkay lost the lawsuit before the series started; so the idea that he was able to revive it when he got his prize-money in Empire is a bit inconsistent, but not glaringly so.

What calls more attention to the retcon is Laurence, who gave testimony on Tharkay’s behalf before his treason (per Chapter 22). But in Chapter 12 of Victory, Laurence knows only that “Tharkay had been embroiled in a law-suit here, although none of the details” (emphasis added). I suppose it’s theoretically possible that Laurence would give testimony in a lawsuit, presumably about Tharkay’s character and service?, without knowing why, but I admit that it’s a little hard for me to believe. But, again, not only is Temeraire going to be in Parliament, but he and Laurence are going to live with Tharkay, which is a gift to Laurence/Tharkay shippers like me, so really I don’t care.

I have seen at least one person disappointed that Laurence/Tharkay is not canon. I respect that reaction, but I also see good reason for the series to take this route. Laurence’s obligations to Temeraire and his relationship to authority are related questions that are central to the series; and entering into a relationship with another man would be a character development journey of comparable magnitude, so it’s hard to see where there would be room for it. Of course, as soon as I wrote that, I thought, “This is what the amnesia plot should’ve been!” But regardless, the series has been deliberately not focused on romantic relationships, and I think that making Laurence/Tharkay canon would shift that focus substantially—and as much as I do ship it, I like the balance of the series as it is.

 

And that brings us to the end of the book and of the series! Which calls for some sum-up thoughts.

At the start of the reread, I said that I liked Laurence but he didn’t live and breathe for me in the same way that, say, Jack Aubrey or even Temeraire did. The reread has given me a better appreciation for, and understanding of, his character; he still doesn’t take up as much space in the room, but he’s a lot more three-dimensional to me now. So that’s one practical benefit of the reread.

Another is being reminded how great the prose frequently is; I haven’t had the time to dissect paragraphs the way I did Tolkien, but I hope that I was able to highlight some particularly effective passages through what I chose to quote.

And finally, forcing myself to dig into the history underlying the alternate history was not only valuable in and of itself, but made the series more impressive. I’m never going to care very much about land wars in Europe or Asia, because that’s just not my speed, but it was good to fill in the details of how alternate things get.

How about you all? What did you think about the ending, is there anything you would have liked to see resolved or not resolved or resolved differently? Is there anything we haven’t talked about enough here? Would you like a nice comfortable gossip about the characters? (I would!) Let me know what you think, I really do want to hear it.

Kate Nepveu was born in South Korea and grew up in New England. She now lives in upstate New York where she is practicing law, raising a family, running Con or Bust, and (in theory) writing at Dreamwidth and her booklog.

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