First Published: 2006
Pages: 391 (Paperback)
Series: Temeraire #2
Soar on the wings of adventure
Captain Will Laurence, formerly of His Majesty’s Navy, has had only a few months to adjust to his new life as the captain of a fighting dragon, but now he can’t imagine a life outside the British Aerial Corps – nor a life without Temeraire.
Now the Chinese have demanded Temeraire’s immediate return, and the British government cannot afford to refuse them, even if it costs them the most powerful weapon in their arsenal. Laurence and Temeraire must journey to China, knowing that once they arrive in the exotic east, they could be separated forever.
The second book in the Temeraire series continues in much the same vein as the first; a solid read, but nothing mind-blowing. After the reveal at the end of Temeraire (His Majesty’s Dragon for you non-UK folk), the Chinese have taken offence and demanded their dragon back, prompting Laurence and Temeraire to travel to the Far East. Much like the first book, the pacing is still a little slow and the characterisation a little too simplistic to my taste – the main focus seems to be the world-building and showing how different cultures interact with dragons – but it’s a fun read.
The pacing though. Somehow, despite there being two dragon battles relatively early on, Throne of Jade plods along at a leisurely pace. It’s a long journey from Bournemouth to China and Novik doesn’t skip over it – in fact it takes over half the book. As a result, the action when they actually reach China and the resolution of the story both feel extremely rushed and a little unsatisfactory. After all the build up it took to get there I expected a little more.
Character-wise, Temeraire is still falling into Mary-Sue grounds with me and Laurence remains teetering on the edge of it, with very few other characters developed enough to form much opinion on. There still don’t really seem to be any shades of grey in these books for me, either you like Laurence and you eventually prove to be an essentially good guy (though not as good as him, obviously) or you dislike him and prove to be nasty. I was actually really disappointed with the resolution and the choice of villain because of this. I didn’t want China to get closer to Laurence and the British – the Chinese envoy had it absolutely right when he was slagging off British imperialism, opium smuggling, missionary expeditions and general dickbaggery. Would have liked a resolution where Laurence got to keep Temeraire, but where the bad guy’s opinions weren’t quite so invalidated by his villainy.
What grey there is mostly comes in the characters attitudes towards the setting and world-building, Laurence is (of course) anti-slavery while his good friend and former naval colleague comes from a slave owning family that owes their fortune to plantation farming. We’re also meant to increasingly compare slavery to the plight of British dragons and their lack of freedoms and rights as the series goes on. This theme was touched upon in book one but becomes much more overt in Throne of Jade. It’s one of the details of the world-builing that I like – if you’re going to have intelligent dragons they should be asking why they don’t have equal rights to humans, and it’s one that’s obviously going to be explored in later books. I really appreciated the fact, too, that even Laurence was forced to acknowledge how much better the Chinese treat dragons and the failings of his own country – that was nice.
The book, and indeed the series, is really more about world-building than it is plot – or so it seems so far anyway. Looking through the blurbs for the next few books thy could almost be summed up as ‘one man and his dragon travel the world’. It’s Turkey next, and later there’s Africa, South America, Australia and more! Although I’m intrigued as to how each of these countries/continents deals with dragons, I have to admit I am a bit anxious as to the strength of story that is going to tie it altogether. And at the moment it’s still just the Laurence and Temeraire show though neither are especially interesting. If I am to stick the series out and eventually read all 9 books, the supporting cast is going to have to start getting more focus and more development.