League of Dragons by Naomi Novik (Temeraire Wrap Up)

Ugh, you gals, I finalllllllllllllllllly did it!

Sorry that took so long! It’s partly because this was one big-ass series (9 books), and partly because during the last week I got a weird stomach flu that kept me from doing anything other than throwing up and ruining my best friend’s birthday. But I’m here! I did it! Yay me!

This series was great. I loved it from the first book, but early on there were a few problems that I wasn’t really sure how she was going to address. How do you make somebody root for colonial England, knowing what they’ve done? How do you then set them against Napoleon, when he’s treating his dragons better than those he’s fighting? How do you reconcile what you know about the world, with the belief system that your main character is going to have because of the time and place that he came from? This was set in a pretty savage part of human history, right in the thick of European colonialism, a time and place with countless political sticky wickets to get stuck in.

And honestly? I think Naomi Novik did about as good of a job as a person could do. She skillfully separates your sympathy from the government that’s fighting the war to the people fighting it, by pitting them against each other whenever the government does something immoral (like still supporting the slave trade, or deliberately spreading a disease among the rest of the dragons in the world, to give British aerial forces superiority) and showing them as being as foul and self-serving as they were (and are, and have always been). By the end of the books Will seems to have completely transferred his sense of duty from said government, the thing he used to look up to, to just the general good of the world. He does what needs to be done, no matter where that is or who it’s for. He makes it easy to cheer for him.

I spent some time on Will’s (the main character, other than Temeraire) personal growth in the last post, so I won’t go on and on about it here. Suffice it to say that he continually learns his way past his problematic English ideas about women, and doesn’t seem to really have any problem with racism or homophobia (to be fair, he does get hellllla uncomfortable when one of the party tells him that he’s gay, but I felt it was more his upper-crusty British mortification at somebody having to reveal anything personal about themselves to him, especially about sex, than it was homophobia). He’s a good character, easy to love and stand behind.

As for Napoleon, even though he does seem to have some good points about the treatment of dragons (who in this universe are intelligent and feeling creatures), she makes it pretty clear that his motives are selfish and that he’d do anything to get the supremacy that he craves. The sheer amount of bodies he climbs over to get what he wants solves the problem of connecting with him too much pretty neatly, though Naomi still manages to write him in a way where I didn’t hate him. I still understood him and why he was doing what he did. I had some sympathy for him, just not a lot.

One of the other things that I really, really dug about these books was getting to see how Novik had imagined our world would be changed by having these big, hulking, thinking weapons in it. Because dragons were everywhere, the invention of cannons as effective means of waging war didn’t knock askew the balance of power the way that they did in our world (it was actually more complicated than that, but I’m trying to keep this blog post from completely getting away from me). I’ve always wondered what the world would have looked like if British (and other European) people hadn’t fucked it so hard, if they’d left American and African cultures to develop unmolested. Novik takes a run at what that would look like and it’s great, smart and well thought out. About as good as anybody not within those cultures themselves could’ve done. It scratched a fiction itch I’ve had for a long time. Plus it was just satisfying to see the English try and do all the shitty things that they’d done throughout our history, but fail miserably.

As much as I loved the books, I do have one bone to pick with Naomi Novik, and it’s this: Tenzin and Will. Are you kidding me? You spent the whole series building this beautiful relationship between the two, where they depended on and anchored one another, where they understood and cared for each other (Tenzin was the one that stopped Will from compromising himself morally when he was in despair over being branded a traitor. And when Will lost his memory, seeing Tenzin was the thing that brought it back. Not Temeraire, not his essentially adopted daughter, not his friends. Tenzin) and in the end…nothing. Well, not nothing. They built a wonderful life long friendship blah blah blah. But I was expecting, hoping for, more. It would have been nice to finally get a relationship in fiction between two masculine, heroic characters that generally identify as straight (if you, like me, are looking for varying representation of LGBTQ people in fiction, hit up Black Sails. It’s way, way better than it’s lousy first season would have you believe), and it really seemed like that’s what she was building up to, and then just…nope. I know you can’t always get what you want, but I really, really wanted this and was super disappointed when it didn’t happen.

Okay! I recommend this series for alternate history nerds, dragon lovers (I feel like that might mean something weirder than I meant it to. No judgement!), and anybody who likes long-ass, satisfying, well written, well-thought out fantasy series. Novik put a boatload of work into these books, and it shows. It’s been a while since I liked a series this much.  Just more gays next time please!

VBR

 

Ps. I did have one more tiny quibble that I just can’t bring myself to leave without mentioning. In one of the books Will loses his memory, which is a story trope that I haaaaaaaaaaate, and one that went on for a lot longer than it should have. I’m not really sure why she included it. The story doesn’t seem like it would’ve changed that much if he’d known who he was all along. I kind of held out hope that it was to set up how important Tenzin had become to him, but that ended up being nothing so…yeah. Not really what that was about, but it wasn’t for me. If you’re like me and you hate that kind of thing, be warned, it’s a big portion of one of the biggest books. Other than that though, dive in!

 

Temeraire by Naomi Novik

Everybody, I have a confession to make. I’ve done a stupid.

On the last day of my trip I started a big, honking fantasy series and now I’m in so deep I don’t think there’s going to be anything else that I’m going to read until I’m done. And while the series is great, and I’m going to give it a little write up here, they’re not different enough from one another to give them each their own blog. The good news, it’s been about a week and I’m four books through, so we’re moving at a decent clip. The bad news, there’s six more books to go. So we’re probably going to be pulling from the backlist to write things about over the next little while.

You gals, this series is everything my hearts been wanting for the past few months. I’ve been reading lots of really good books over the last little while, but a few of them have been on the heavier side (which I like! I love, actually. I just like to intersperse my heavy, serious reads with some lighter, fluffier fare). I hadn’t actually realized until I picked these up how long it’s been since I’ve read a big, fun fantasy series. I can’t even remember the last time I latched onto one and burned my way through it (maybe the Dresden Files? Which itself is a series with great world building, okay writing, and some well-meaning, if not always well-executed, politics). It’s a thing I used to do a lot more when I was younger and didn’t have as many obligations eating up my time, dive into a world and lose yourself there for a few thousand pages, and I’ve missed it.

There’s so many things about this book that speak directly to me. I was raised in a fairly WASP-y environment (I wasn’t allowed to leave the dinner table as a child without saying “I’ve had ample sufficiency.” For real) and the stuffy, buttoned-up, very slightly before Victorian-era main character just…delights me. I love how proper and concerned with formality he is (he notices when people aren’t wearing their full dress coats and neck clothes, even when they’re in tropical environments, and does his best not to look down his nose at them because he’s a god damn gentleman). He also does that thing I remember, oh so fondly, from my childhood, where the angrier you get, the colder and more polite you become. Mmmm…childhood memories.

Now, because of the time frame and the place, his concern with respectability and his upper-crusty British-ness does lend itself to some…old-fashioned (sexist!) ideas about things, but Novik is aware of it, and addresses it pretty cleverly. She’s created a society in England at the time, The Aviators (people who’ve bonded with dragons) who, from necessity, have a more liberal viewpoint than most of the rest of the world. They don’t discriminate based on gender, babies out of wedlock are no big deal, they don’t bother overly much with status and the layers of planning and propriety that seem to go into every conversation because of it. By dropping her suuuuuuper British character among them, she gives him a means and a reason to learn, which he is both capable of and willing to do. You get to see that he’s a pretty good guy, and mostly just a product of his environment, constantly course correcting as he adjusts his ideas about what the right things to do are. Plus it’s just fun to watch him unwind a little (not a lot) over the course of the books.

And the dragons are great! Funny, likeable, smart. It’s a really good, fairly original take on the creatures, and Novik uses their intelligence and the weird position they hold in British society to make some smart social commentary. A lot of that comes from the main dragon character Temeraire, who acts as a good surrogate for the author. He’s smart and opinionated and gives a lot of kickback on the shitty thinking of the time, allowing the author to slip in her own opinions about some of the less appealing aspects of British society.

I’d recommend this series for lovers of fantasy (though don’t go in expecting high fantasy. Dragons are the only fantastical element), adventure, and people who like a little flavour in their historical lit (Novik seems to have done a buuunnncccchhhh of research for these books. I’m no expert, so everything she says could be completely and totally wrong and I wouldn’t know, but it feels authentic enough). Also recommended if, like me, stiff, emotionally unavailable British gentlemen make you purr like a cat.

With the Sincerest and Most Deeply Felt Affection,

Yours,

VBR

 

 

Uprooted By Naomi Novik

You guys, I really, reaaaally loved this book. After the last couple of dark-as-fuuuuck books that I’ve read, this was just such a warm, light, heart-hug of a novel. Don’t get me wrong, people die (so many people. Thousands of people. Almost all the people) but…I dunno. It just felt so fresh and fun to me. The language is clear and clean and to the point, the story is great, and the protagonist is a dope-ass, take no shit lady (something ya’ll know I have a weakness for).

But it wasn’t just light and fun. For some reason, despite the big buzz around the novel (I’ve only ever heard people gush about it), I had moderate to low expectations for it. I was, and I’m ashamed to admit this, using it as a palate cleanser. I just wanted something fun and easy, something that would suck me in and carry me along. And I got it! But I also got something else. It had a moral centre, an intelligence and thoughtfulness to it, that I wasn’t expecting. Novik’s use and subversion of fantasy and fairy-tale tropes was subtler, smarter, than I thought it was going to be.

Before I wrap this up I also want to give a quick shout out to the ending. I’m not going to say much about it, because I want you to discover it on your own, but I really enjoyed it. As an avid and life long fantasy reader, I find nothing more disappointing than the “kill the monster and everything is better” ending to a novel, and I’m happy this book avoided that trap.

In case it wasn’t clear throughout the entirety of this wet, sloppy kiss of a review, I am definitely, one hundred percent recommending it. Normally I would put some sort of a caveat on there (if you like fantasy, or if you like fairytales, or if you like blah blah blah), but this one is pretty unequivocal. Just buy it and read it, okay?

Enjoy!

VBR

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