Throne of Jade
By Naomi Novik
Rating: 3 1/2 Stars
‘Captain William Laurence of the British Air Corps and his dragon, Temeraire, begin their slow voyage to China, fearful that upon landing they will be forced to part by Imperial decree.
Temeraire is a Celestial dragon, the most highly-prized of all draconic breeds; famed for their intelligence, agility and most of all for the Divine Wind – their terrible roar capable of shattering the heavy timbers of war ships, shattering woodland and destroying other dragons mid-flight. Temeraire’s egg was captured and claimed by the British at sea, but he was meant to be the companion of the Emperor Napoleon and not captained by a mere officer in the British Air Corps.
The Chinese have demanded his return and the British cannot refuse them – they cannot afford to provoke the asian super-power into allying themselves with the French – even if it costs them the most powerful weapon in their arsenal and inflicts the most unimaginable pain upon Laurence and his dragon…’
This was my travelling book on the long journey back from Skye at the end of July. It’s an easy read, enjoyable without being too taxing, so it was definitely fit for purpose.
I think that, in many ways, this was an improvement on the first novel in the series but the issues that were prevalent in Temeraire are compounded by those raised in Throne of Jade. The partnership between Lawrence and Temeraire is better established, they’re more assured of their place in the corps and they have understandable stakes that they don’t want to lose. That said, I never really believed that they were at risk of losing them, perhaps this is because I know we’re only at book 2 of a very long series.
I’ve got to give credit to Novik for so dealing directly with the issues she raised in the first book, although I kind of wish that we’d had a bit longer to see the pair in their new environment before pulling them out of it gain so suddenly. I’m a little iffy on how much time was meant to have passed between the end of the first novel and the beginning of the second, but it felt like there could have been another story in the middle somehow.
The Chinese delegation’s attitude to dragons is intriguing, their views on the species are a strange combination of reverence and possessiveness. The villain of the piece is very evident from the beginning so there’s no mystery there. But Novik does keep us from understanding his motives until very near the end, unfortunately we haven’t spend long enough in China itself to appreciate the ramifications of the plot.
My main issue is – again – the pacing. The voyage to China is SOOOOO sloooooow. Novik’s China was fascinating but it only appears very late in the book so we don’t get that much of an opportunity to explore it. We could have compressed about half the boat journey and spent so much more time investigating this new and fascinating society.
Due to the nature of the voyage there is also a lack of other dragons until they get to China. Admittedly, the dragons that they find there are intriguing but, as I’ve already said, there’s just not enough of them. I enjoyed the relationship between Temeraire and his crew and I wanted to see a bit more of it, just as I wanted to see more of the corps as a whole. I like that we got to meet some of the sailors again and I enjoyed the fact that Lawrence ‘couldn’t go back home again’. He’s not been with the corps long enough to truly settle in and he will always be an outsider because of the route he took to join them, but at the same time he is no longer completely suited to Navy life. His differences of opinion with his former colleagues was interesting, as was the tension between the members of the corps and the other sailors. One thing that Novik does very well is portray the subtle differences that have come about in society as a result of the existence of dragons and it is well illustrated here.
In the end I enjoyed it, but I hope that the series is able to develop further and resolve these pacing issues as it progresses.