In the second part of Blood of Tyrants, there’s a reunion, and an assassination attempt, and can someone please punch Hammond already?
This review is brought to you by restless fidgeting.
So we’re up to the halfway point now, and I can say (with some relief) that there is a more solid sense of a plot here than I felt there was in the first part of the book. Will and his crew are reunited, though his amnesia is still present and accounted for, and they finally make it to China after a bit of a scrap with Will’s captors, post-escape.
They make it there rather abruptly, in fact, without even a chapter break between leaving Japan and arriving in China. The details of discovering Will’s amnesia and the extent of it, and the responses of Temeraire and his friends in the aviator crew, are also largely skipped over; the story leaps the hurdle and we land in a scenario where everyone’s walking on eggshells, having apparently agreed that telling Will certain very important things about his missing years as an aviator is a bad idea, for now. Like, oh, the fact that the noble former Navy Captain is officially a traitor to his beloved country. And if that wasn’t enough of a sudden shift in gears, we also go very quickly from this arrival to Will being presented before the crown prince – and no sooner is he admitted into his presence than somebody tries to kill him.
I might have had whiplash from all the scene-jumping, if I wasn’t still struggling a little with that whole personal investment issue. You know, the one that took a beating not so long ago.
It does make sense, to be fair. It’s been years since Will was last in China, and a lot of folks were unhappy about his adoption by the Emperor even then. That political gambit’s had time to fester amongst the opposition since, and apparently the time to hesitate is through. Will’s return is a surprise, however, and so the sense of the assassination attempt being rushed fits with that. The naysayers might be planning a coup, but they weren’t expecting Will to return when he did. That said, the unfortunate side effect of this – or perhaps, of the execution of that scene and how we got to it – feels clunky to me, as the reader.
This is compounded by what follows, ie. a somewhat lengthy lapse in the tightened pacing as Will and the prince are rescued (by rather decisively burning down their captor’s house, Will, you dashingly naughty boy) only to be set up to prove their – and Britain’s – continued good intent by finding and thwarting the smugglers responsible for bringing opium to China. (There is logic here, but it’s politics. I confess that I drifted through the exposition a bit.) So they’re heading south into the countryside, and taking their sweet, lazy time about it. Apparently what we rushed to get to here was a rather annoyingly detailed account of Chinese military formations and how they work.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the attention to detail. But I would have appreciated it more if it wasn’t dragging the story’s pace down.
But it isn’t all bad, though. We get to see Will begin to discover a thing or two about what he’s been up to for the last eight years, and pleasingly, his baby steps back to mental recovery seem to fixate upon his bond with Emily Roland. In all honesty, I did kind of roll my eyes at Will’s surprise to (re)learn that Roland’s a girl and destined for a dragon of her own one day, etc etc, and at his rather panicked internal debate about whether or not she could be his illegitimate daughter. He finds Jane’s letters, there’s a bit of a physical resemblance, blah blah WILL COME ON NOW.
On the plus side, it doesn’t take long for Will’s pride in Emily’s capabilities to put his worries in the shade. She gets a chance to shine that is more precious for feeling like a rarity, when she readily and ably defends both Will’s life and that of Mrs Pemberton (Alice!) from another assassination attempt on the road. She kicks ass, as we knew she could, and even Will has to admit she’s done him proud in general. Even in trousers.
Will I ever stop loving Emily Roland? Hell no. That love is eternal.
Then there’s the matter of Will having concerns about the rumours of opium smuggling, because Amnesiac Will is still rather stubbornly patriotic and is troubled by the notion that not only is his country sidestepping Chinese law even in the midst of tricky political negotiations, but – as he later discovers – Hammond is aware of the rumours, and doesn’t deny that they might be true. He also doesn’t seem as offended by the idea as Will, because smugglers gotta smuggle and it’s not his job to stop them HAMMOND WHY ARE YOU EVEN HERE.
So by the end of this section, it’s revealed that yes, in fact, opium smugglers are operating in the south of China. We’re left with Will looking very grim about the whole thing, and I don’t blame him. The question now is, what to do? Will doesn’t consider it his job to get involved in cleaning up Chinese messes, and yet it kind of is. That technicality, thanks to his official adoption by the Emperor, feels like the thinnest of logic threads to Will. That’s understandable, because even from a political viewpoint, it IS thin. Everything on Will’s record says he is not exactly the hero China needs.
And yet. He is Will Fucking Laurence, and this shit is wrong. Right?
Come on, Will. You’ve flown in the face of your own patriotism before. You might not remember doing it, but you’ve got it in you somewhere to do it again. I hope.
I guess what I’m saying is screw the British before they screw you yet again, Will. And if you could literally knock Hammond down a peg or two at the same time, that’d be grand. The little bastard’s got it coming.
It’ll be fine. Emily Roland’s got your back.