harryknuckles's Reviews > Throne of Jade

Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik
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's review
Feb 23, 2011

really liked it
Read in January, 2010

Throne of Jade, the second installment of the adventures of Celestial Dragon Temeraire and his British 'Captain' Laurence is a satisfying continuation to the story introduced in Naomi Novik's debut 'Temeraire'.

Picking up a few months after the conclusion of the previous novel, Throne of Jade finds Laurence and Temeraire threatened with being separated when a delegation from China (where Temeraire's egg originated) arrives in Britain demanding the now fully grown dragon's return. With political, trade & diplomatic considerations taking precedence, Laurence and Temeraire are despatched by the British Government to China in an effort to appease the Chinese and prevent France from securing an alliance with that great country. Bound by duty and honour Laurence and Temeraire have no choice but to go, even though doing so might result in their being separated permanently.

What follows is a very different book to the first Temeraire novel. With the first two thirds of the book being set at sea aboard the Dragon Transport that Laurence and his steed are obliged to take to China (a sort of Napoleonic era aircraft carrier that is yet another imaginative invention on the part of the author), much of the story is given over to further developing both Temeraire as a character and his relationship with Laurence. This is well handled by Novik, and she adds added depth by the introduction of Chinese characters whose attitude to Temeraire and Dragons as a species is very different to that of Europeans and give new perspective that was missing in the first book. By the time the story reaches China in the final third of the book readers have a far better understanding of Dragons place in this alternative reality (which is once again very well conceived) and Temeraire has become a far more rounded and complex character in his own right. Novik also succeeds in avoiding the obvious trap of making dragons too mythical a species by giving them very natural characteristics and falibilities. The concept that they can catch colds is particularly clever since it shows them to be as vulnerable and mortal as any other real creature.

Despite events being confined to ship for much of the book's length Novik doesn't forget to include requisite amount of exciting action. With political intrigue and conspiracy abounding, and the Napoleonic wars continuing there are plenty of opportunuties for both seaborne and airborne action during the voyage. An episode involving an attack by a giant sea serpant (yet another imaginative addition that fits perfectly into the novel's world) is particularly well handled.

The improves further when events reach China. As with the first Temeraire novel, Novik has obviously given careful thought to how dragons would fit into Chinese society and her concept of a country where they and humans live and interact on an equal footing is wonderfully realised. Again, despite the fantastic nature of the concept, the China we are introduced to through the eyes of Laurence has an entirely natural air to it and it is never difficult for the reader to suspend your disbelief. Its also fascinating and make a great juxtaposition to the alternative Europe introduced in the previous book.

Despite all the myriad of details however, the plot is not forgotten, and the intrigues that were hinted at during the long sea voyage come to the fore as Tremeraire and Laurence find themselves at the centre of internal Chinese imperial politics. Once again Novik inserts some blistering action set-pieces whilst avoiding too many 'oriental' cliches such as fantastical kung-fu fighting that can often afflict books with a similar setting. She also successfully brings together the various plot strands that have been running through the book until events come to a final, satisfying conclusion.

So are there any faults to found in Throne of Jade? Well, yes, but they're more niggles and flaws than anything more serious. Whilst transporting events from 18th Century England to China gives a fresh perspective to events, it is a little disappointing that many of the supporting characters from the first book, both human and draconian, are left behind and cannot be developed further. There is also a repeat of some of the pacing issues that afflicted the first book, with the final resolution to the story occurring so quickly that whilst not feeling rushed per se it doesn't necessarily have the impact that it could have.

Overall however, Throne of Jade continues the promise of Temeraire. If Black Powder Wars, the next novel in the series, and any subsequent episodes, are as good as this book and its predecessor the adventures of Temeraire and Laurence and the world they inhabited are destined to become classic creations. Hugely recommended.


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