In the third part of Blood of Tyrants, Will remembers himself – and all we get is angst.
This review covers chapters 12-16, and will contain spoilers.
I got something I’d been wishing for in these chapters, but at the same time I feel like the progress made here, such as it is, is making the story’s flaws worse. Let’s unpack this a bit.
So to recap: Temeraire works himself into an angsty tizzy over Will’s continued lack of memory, and does what a self-centred (dragon) child does: he storms off by himself, and of course he quickly gets into trouble when a) he comes across Arkady (!) literally in a bind, and b) is followed by backstabbing dragon guards who then proceed to try to kill them both. Will and company save the day, and we discover that Arkady wasn’t the only one captured – he came with Tharkay, who had a very important message for Will regarding the war, but was captured before he could get to him and has spent the last month or so being tortured for information.
General Fela is discovered to be behind the ‘rebellion’ that Will’s been sent to put down, and in his panic at the threat of discovery he’s committed to either framing the British and therefore Will, or killing them all and covering his tracks that way. So the mission becomes a rescue attempt, because they need proof of Fela’s misdeeds and Tharkay’s their best chance at getting it.
My grasp of that plot is a bit sketchy, because I have to admit I lost sight of most of it beyond YAY THARKAY’S BACK OH WAIT NO HE’S IN TROUBLE AAAAH.
There’s fighting, and Will does indeed save his friend’s life, but there’s a twist: the sight of Tharkay brings all of Will’s memories back to him. He recognises Tenzing at once, where thus far all efforts at recollection in the company of the rest of his nearest and dearest did very little to achieve this. The problem with this development is that, somehow, it falls flat for me. It shouldn’t have, regardless of the dubiousness of the timing, but it did. It surprised me, which technically is what a plot twist is meant to do, but unfortunately it surprised me because I didn’t buy it.
All those teasing little hints of recovered memory whenever Will was thinking about Emily Roland, and the emphasis (to my mind) on the importance to Will of their relationship left me seeing this as a missed opportunity for this development to carry more weight. If Roland had been the one to finally jog Will’s memory, I’d be having so many feels. Proud Dad remembers his pride in his charge! Instead we got oh-lord-is-she-my-daughter awkwardness (*eyeroll*) and … this.
I don’t understand how this development could fail on an emotional level. Yet here we are, and all I’ve got is Meh. It’s starting to feel like these characters are puppets on a stage, and I can see the strings now. It’s disappointing.
But let’s move on, because Tharkay’s message is that Napoleon is advancing on Russia, and that means that the endgame is coming.
So of course we’re splitting the company up once again. Will and his Chinese allies are needed in Russia, but there’s still work to be done for the rest elsewhere. Just as Will regains his memories, we’re separating everybody again.
And speaking of Will’s memories, I’ve got a bone to pick with his attitude change. There is a marked difference in how blunt and direct he’s been willing to be since the accident that wiped his memory. He shows his temper more readily, he stops mincing words quite so often, and he takes certain things more easily in stride than I think he would have before the amnesia. Case in point: when faced with Granby and Captain Little, knowing (again) what he knows about them, Will speculates, inner monologue style, about how such relations would be dealt with in the Navy, despite that some officers are less discreet than Granby about their sexual inclinations. Would Will, having discovered this secret about his friend eight years ago, have reported the crime and let the Admiralty punish him? Perhaps, but it’s all good because he has no intention of doing so now. What Granby does and who he does it with is his business, right? Aren’t we glad Will’s not that much of an ass?
I stared so hard at this entire passage, I’m amazed I didn’t go blind.
So all that was required for Will to learn to really be at peace with Granby’s sexuality and take a ‘live and let live’ approach to it, as opposed to, oh say, PUSHING HIM TO MARRY AGAINST HIS WILL, was a knock on the head and an enforced change of his outlook.
Oh. OK. That’s totally fine then.
(This is not fine. This is the opposite of fine. What the hell, Novik?)
Taking all of these critical points together, I’m not even angry now. I’m not sure I have enough energy left to be angry; I’m just disappointed. It’s one confounding letdown after another, and it’s not even as though any of these ‘twists’ are really that hard to guess at. They’re fairly textbook as such things go, and as my fellow Muskedragon Emma Maree pointed out when we discussed these chapters, Novik somehow still manages to telegraph it. With twists like this, I really feel like at least some of it ought to have stuck, emotionally. None of it sticks, and given how madly in love with it all I was in the beginning, that makes me sad now.
At this point I want to finish for the sake of whatever angle Novik might take on the history part of it. One good thing that has come out of sticking with this readalong is that our Scottish contingent was able to get a pretty entertaining history lesson from M about the Napoleonic Wars, and what eventually became of the man who would be Emperor. If Novik has anything left in the tank for a big finale, I’m actually hoping for once that Napoleon gives us a good show.
… How I still have any hope left in me, I don’t know. But I’ll take what I can get.