This is, according to the book jacket, the last Temeraire story we shall have. So, the question in my mind was: will this give a logical and satisfying conclusion to this wonderful story?
The world is still embroiled in Napoleon’s war and he’s winning. As the story begins, Lawrence and Temeraire are in Russia pursuing Napoleon under the harsh and debilitating conditions of a Russian winter. They have, in their command, Russian dragons but Temeraire finds it difficult to turn them into ‘soldiers,’ so to speak; until he discovers the value of bribery. Temeraire actually finds it within himself to give up his own war booty in the name of the greater good; this is a grand step in Temeraire’s growth as the acquisition of treasure is the second greatest method of controlling dragons; the first being their captain. Novik pursues the concept that the dragons are what men have made of them. If men treat them as ignorant beasts and lure them with treasure, then they will have petty, willful dragons rather than a strong and equal partner. It has been Temeraire’s goal, for quite a while, to make strong and responsible dragons who are more than slaves to men. But both he and Lawrence also wish men to be more responsible to those dragons who love them so. But they are fighting an uphill battle in both England and Russia against entrenched tradition. Napoleon tempts dragons to his side with a new policy of reward and entitlement; but, the evidence is that he will still use them as cannon fodder when necessary. Lawrence struggles with his new role as a Chinese Prince, a title both an embarrassment and an anchor. Temeraire, of course, cannot understand Lawrence’s reluctance to embrace what seems to Temeraire a fair and well-deserved title.
Temeraire’s and Isierka’s egg is well-protected in China waiting for a hatching that will bond the new dragon with the Crown Prince. Unfortunately, Napoleon and his dragon partner, Lien, have other plans and the egg isn’t as safe as was thought. Once Temeraire and Isierka learn of it being stolen, they drop everything to rescue it; however, becoming prisoners of Napoleon was not expected. Once captured, Temeraire and Isierka are separated from their beloved captains which is a standard tactic in controlling dragons. But these two dragons are not the run-of-the-mill dragons and they take into mind to recapture their egg rather than their captains. But to Temeraire’s chagrin, the egg decides to hatch during the rescue attempt. Apparently, the dragonet, while listening to their plans go awry, decided she must take matters into her own claws, so to speak. And in that moment, everything changed. While dragonets are in the shell, they are perfectly aware of events going on around them and absorb quite a bit of information before they even hatch. This particular dragonet had become aware of how important and significant she must be with two emperors coveting her: China for their Crown Prince and Napoleon for his own son. So Temeraire’s young hatchling came out with quite an attitude; which becomes quite trying to him. She is quite a delight to watch; she has Temeraire’s intelligence but with no loyalty to anyone; only a determination to make the most advantageous match for herself. She also has a strong opinion that this war in which Napoleon engages is most disagreeable and ought to be stopped immediately.
Temeraire’s unusual ideas about dragon rights took hold in the mind of one particularly persistent dragon, Perscitia, who managed to get a bill through Britain’s Parliament to give dragons representation a development that I saw Novik working on since the first novel. And although she did follow-through with that development, it seemed a bit…under-whelming.
Overall, the book was mostly just battle. And while that is in keeping with the Hornblower tradition, to which these books have been compared, I was hoping for more interaction between cultures and a grander result to Temeraire’s efforts to find a more equitable relationship between dragons and men. So, and I truly hate to say this, this book was less than satisfying. ~~ Catherine Book
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