Novik, Naomi: (02) Throne of Jade

Naomi Novik’s Throne of Jade is the second book in the Temeraire series, begun with His Majesty’s Dragon. It is not a direct sequel, but addresses the conflict raised by the end of the first book: Temeraire is from a very rare and important breed of Chinese dragons, and the Chinese Empire is gravely offended at his military service and his attachment to a lowly aviator. Temeraire and Laurence are forced to make the long journey to China, along with a diplomatic envoy who is much more concerned with ensuring Chinese neutrality (at the least) than with Temeraire and Laurence’s happiness.

Though clearly signaled by the end of the last book, the story stands alone quite well. Indeed, I think in some ways it is superior to the first book. It’s more exciting, for one: between Laurence and Temeraire having finished training, and the perils of the sea voyage, there’s significantly more action. When there isn’t physical danger, there’s Laurence’s constant worry that he and Temeraire will be separated, either by force or by Temeraire’s choice.

That leads directly to the other superior thing: China is a society drastically different because of the presence of dragons. England doesn’t have the resources to support many dragons or many different species of dragons, but China, which does, domesticated dragons a thousand years earlier: and its treatment of dragons is fascinating indeed. Those who complained that the history was insufficiently alternate should enjoy this one, whether or not they are retroactively convinced by the progress of history in England.

I thought the denouement felt a trifle hasty or thin, but on reflection I think this is largely attributable to the limits of Laurence’s point-of-view. And the world-building here, and the possibilities set up for further down the road, are most intriguing. I wouldn’t recommend skipping the first, but if you liked the first at all, definitely grab this one.

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