League of Dragons by Naomi Novik

League of Dragons by Naomi NovikEvery time I’ve read one of the books in this series, I’ve been delighted, and League of Dragons is no exception. The hard part will be explaining why without spoiling any of the tension filled moments. The one spoiler (as it’s pretty obvious) that I will allow myself is to say Temeraire’s daughter is a unique individual among dragons and any sapient being in the story’s world. She’s frustrating, opinionated, and flippant…which is not to say she’s all that wrong.

Which brings me to the aspect of this book I loved the most. There’s an ongoing tension between those who refuse to recognize the dragons as people and those who are happy to manipulate that shortsightedness, but what draws the most attention to this fact is the dragons themselves. It is wonderful how Novik brings the dragon mentality to play here. It’s not how most humans think, but neither is it so distant that I couldn’t understand it. A purely alien perspective that nevertheless offers clarity and humor to many moments in the story. The descriptions here were often flowery and focused on appearances, which would often lead me to skim. Instead, they offer a fascinating insight into the dragon perspective.

Another part I appreciated was the portrayal of Napoleon himself. From what I know of the history, this portrayal is rather accurate to the man’s true nature despite the introduction of dragons and the many ways that changes each encounter. He’s an interesting person with many likeable characteristics that do not in any way excuse his warmongering and expansionist mentality.

However, while he’s cast the villain, League of Dragons does not paint the “heroes” with a saintly brush either, giving a glimpse into the complexities of any war where even the side I would agree with commits acts that are heinous and without reason. Laurence (the main character along with his dragon Temeraire) is at the heart of this complexity. He is the one person everyone needs and everyone loves to hate…well, not everyone.

He is both a strong tactician and strategist, but where this could have won him every accolade, he adds to it a firm moral sense that gets him in trouble. Many of the troubles he faces in League of Dragons are a direct consequence of his actions in previous books along with his somewhat unique position as the adopted son of the Chinese emperor.

So, yes, this is right in my sweet spot with culture clash, diplomacy, and even well written battle scenes that were interesting enough to keep me from skimming, all wrapped up in an alternate history of an era that interests me. Sociology plays a big part in this novel, as much as politics, and it offers many nuggets for those wanting to gain a better understanding of the twists of government and self-interest.

In case it wasn’t clear, I loved the way the dragon perspectives are well thought out, as well as how they learn and adapt, but the same can be said for the human circumstances. Laurence is not the only one to be put in an awkward position because of the choices he’s made, and there are several points where actions, even well meaning ones, have unintended consequences, again speaking to the complexity of the narrative.

League of Dragons offers characters you will grow to love and hate; cultural and loyalty conflicts that put both people and dragons in awkward positions; and an intricate narrative that never lets you settle into a comfort zone for long before adding some new twist. Definitely worth the read and ample demonstration of why my sister and my sons have been after me to read the whole series for years.

P.S. I received this novel from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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