The second in trilogy begun in His Majesty’s Dragon finds Temeraire and Laurence traveling by sea to China where Temeraire will take his rightful place as the dragon of an emperor–not a member of His Royal Majesty’s Navy battling against an ever-encroaching Napoleon.
Throne of Jade is a more than worthy installment in the tale of Temeraire, a dragon hatched from an egg given by China to Napoleon but seized by the English. When Temeraire hatched, the first person he saw was naval officer Laurence–and this was quite by accident, to the despair of the pilot who was next in line to bond with a dragon. Laurence has to leave the navy with his beloved order and ritual, for the less rigorous though no less disciplined aerial corps, and learn to pilot a dragon and his crew to fight the air battle against Napoleon in service of the British Army. Book one covered this coming-of-age story beautifully, and by the end of the book Temeraire and Laurence were as thick as thieves and devoted to fair Albion.
At the outset of the second book, however, Laurence and Temeraire find themselves separated and accused of treason. Temeraire is an incredibly rare dragon, a Celestial, and can only be paired within the royal line. Temeraire will not sail to China without Laurence, so the two find themselves on a sea voyage around the world to the Far East. All the while Laurence suffers from jealousy and even paranoia as Temeraire masters the Chinese language and begins to write poetry in the foreign tongue.
Novik is an incredibly visual storyteller, bringing to life a sailing vessel in a storm, a glorious battle between ships and dragons, the wonders of Peking where dragons walk the streets, and all the range of the human emotions. And she pulls off the dragon thing in spades, writing an alternative version of history that feels like it could’ve happened that way. I mean, how on earth did we beat Napoleon without dragons? It’s a great adventure story and it’s also grounded in a tale that has a great deal of meaning and resonance.
A few mentions of the existence of “feral dragons” makes me hope that book three, Black Powder War, involves an encounter with such a terrifying creature.