It is the waning days of the Russian monarchy. A reckless man rules the land and his dragons rule the sky. Though the Tsar aims his dragons at his enemies—Jews and Bolsheviks—his entire country is catching fire. Revolution is in the air—and the Red Army is hatching its own weapons.
The Last Tsar’s Dragons
Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
Growing up I was as much a history nerd as I was a bookworm. I was always particularly fascinated by the human cost of quests for power; how idealistic leaders could commit atrocities, and truly believe it was for the best. Unsurprisingly, therefore, I came into this novella with the history of the February Revolution and the Red Terror being not entirely foreign to me. This is part of why I was so interested to get my hands on this speculative fiction novella about the February Revolution… with dragons. Dragons as metaphor for power and as agents for change in a historical setting? I love it!
I was not disappointed by this novella, which – granted – is a weird place to start a review, but I feel I need to preface everything I’m about to say. The Last Tsar’s Dragons was not exactly what I was anticipating it to be, but it was still very engaging and I blasted through it in one sitting in the course of an evening. Each chapter changed point of view, rotating through a cast of well known historical figures – Tsar Nicholas II, Rasputin, Leon Trotsky, and Tsarina Alexandra. Additionally, and at first somewhat oddly, we also have the first person voice of a seemingly nameless functionary who is always on the periphery of the main action. We are watching the events leading up to the October Revolution – and the end of Tsar Nicholas II’s reign – play out from these varied stand points. I found it to be a fairly interesting take on the historical events however, I really wanted more dragons! I was somewhat surprised to find that the addition of the dragons had very little substantial impact on how everything played out. In hindsight I can see the value of this. The concept that a dragon is just like any other weapon and therefore wouldn’t change the story is an exciting rabbit hole to fall down! However, they feel a bit like Chekhov’s gun, and like the gun – they’re mostly used off stage.
Obviously, the dragons (and lack thereof) factored heavily into my rating of the novella. Additionally, I found the chapters from Rasputin’s point of view slightly challenging – his blatant disregard of women in any capacity other than as sex objects is difficult to swallow when it is brought up so frequently. To counter that, I found the inclusion of the tsarina to be a fascinating point of view. She is probably the most historically interesting of the group, and the most overlooked. I understand all of the characterizations, and despite my qualms about Rasputin, I believe that Yolan and Stemple created characters that were appropriate to the situtation and stylized Russia we were entering.
Overall, I enjoyed The Last Tsar’s Dragons. I think a lot of my qualms with the novella could be sorted if this had been expanded into a full novel – and the finale allowed more space to grow and be explored! I certainly would pick this up in novel form! However, as it stands, I give the novella a solid 3.5 stars! Thank you to Tachyon Publications and Netgalley for the review copy! For more information visit Tachyon Publications website! And, don’t forget to pick up your copy when it comes out on June 26th!