It picks up a few weeks after Empire of Ivory left off. Laurence is under arrest for treason because he took the cure for the dragon plague to France, and Temeraire has been sent to the remote breeding ground Pen Y Fan. Instead being executed, Laurence is kept imprisoned, because there would be no controlling Temeraire if Laurence were dead. Temeraire is told that he must keep up good behavior or Laurence will be hanged, so he keeps to himself in the grounds. Ultimately, he hears news that the ship Laurence was being transported on was sunk by the French and that there were no survivors. Grief stricken and filled with rage, he decides enough is enough, and organizes the other dragons on the grounds into a sort of militia. Temeraire has decided that he is simply not going to sit around and let the French raze England; he is going to fight them whether the English government wants him to or not. Unbeknownst to him Laurence did indeed survive the wreck, and news that Napoleon has launched his invasion at last has forced his captors to press him and Temeraire back into service. Laurence is under no illusions though, that he will ever be forgiven. So he heads to Pen Y Fan, only to discover that it is totally empty. He follows the signs, trying to track down Temeraire, assuming that all the dragons fled in panic at news of the invasion, never dreaming that Temeraire organized them all into a fighting force and that they are all headed to London. Not only that, but they have already fought and won a minor battle, and gained vital intelligence on French movements. When Laurence and Temeraire reunite, Temeraire believes that if they distinguish themselves in battle they will not only earn Laurence a pardon, but earn Temeraire and the other dragons all the rights and privileges that Chinese dragons, and now French dragons, under the influence of Lien, enjoy. Things heat up when a captain, under orders from the Lords of the Admiralty, shows up, intending to give a commission to the bright young officer in charge of the militia:
“’Good God,’ Laurence said, comprehensively; he could well and vividly imagine the reaction which the Lords of the Admiralty should have, to the intelligence that the well-formed and orderly militia which they confidently expected, with a clever young officer at its head, was rather an experimental and wholly independent legion of unharnessed dragons, without any great sympathy for their Lordships, and under the command of the most recalcitrant dragon in all Britain.”
Temeraire shamelessly turns the desperation of the moment to the dragons’ advantage: he manages to keep the commission, and refuses to fight unless he is paid a wage, the same as all other members of the military. He manages to wrangle a few other concessions, but Laurence knows that once the danger is past, there will be a reckoning.
I love Temeraire. I just do. He’s arrogant, but humble; naïve, but insightful. Imagining a gigantic dragon that could squash a human and not even realize it being so mannerly and polite, is amusing. Not to mention his almost alien perception of human culture makes for some great reading. And Laurence! Sometimes I want to smack him in the head and tell him to get the hell over it, honor my ass! As far as I’m concerned if someone broke faith with you then you have no more obligation to them. He refuses several attempts of his friend Tharkay to help him escape, because even though the government wishes him hanged, and was willing to murder hundreds of French dragons (albeit by proxy of withholding the cure for the plague), he still loves England and is unwilling to abandon his homeland to the mercy of Napoleon.