Angela's Reviews > Throne of Jade

Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik
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's review
Dec 22, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy
Read 2 times. Last read January 29, 2013.

** spoiler alert ** Okay, yeah, that was thirty-six guns of fun on a twenty-gun frigate.

Things start off with a bang in Throne of Jade when our Captain Laurence is hauled in before a visiting Chinese delegation and point-blank ordered to turn Temeraire over to them so that he may be returned to his land of birth. Surprising exactly no one who has read His Majesty's Dragon, Laurence vigorously refuses to do any such thing--and from the word go, this entire encounter gives us readers more evidence that British society in general still really doesn't get the concept that the dragons are sentient beings. Barham accuses Laurence of "making a pet" of Temeraire, and Laurence is repeatedly called upon to do such things as lie to his dragon to try to convince him to agree to go--things that no one in this society would think of doing if the individual balking were a person. And this sets up the entire major conflict of the book--whether or not Temeraire will in fact stay in China once he realizes that the Chinese treat dragons far, far better than the British do. It's also an excellent way to give us more Jane Roland, who clearly continues to be Laurence's love interest, and who had to make me grin because as she intercepted Laurence coming out of that disastrous first meeting, I couldn't help but think of Marion intercepting Indy at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It is also absolutely unsurprising that, meeting with intransigence on Laurence's part, the odious Barham tries to go around him to lie to Temeraire himself. And Temeraire goes absolutely medieval on him and the other men he's brought with him, letting loose a bit of the Divine Wind, and promptly snatching Laurence up into the air rather than let the intruders separate him from his beloved rider any longer. I loved that. Temeraire taking the initiative there was beyond fabulous, and absolutely reasonable given how he and Maximus and Lily had discussed saving their riders from such perils in the previous book. Temeraire's defense of Laurence after the battle, when Laurence lay unconscious, was equally fabulous--and I liked that the surgeon stepped in and waved Barham and all his lackeys off, asserting how generally vile it was to try to barge in on wounded men and beasts fresh out of a battle. That was absolutely appropriate for the morality of the time.

Once Laurence and Temeraire get onto the Allegiance, things take on a much more Patrick O'Brian-y flavor since most of the plot is in fact at sea. And this was not a bad thing in the slightest. It gave us all kinds of opportunity to further the growing issue of whether Temeraire would choose to stay in China--and to set up all the clues that this attempt on the part of Yongxing to take Temeraire was not entirely on the up-and-up.

And we start getting evidence that Chinese dragons are indeed treated far better than their British counterparts. We learn that a dragon has written poetry, and that the Chinese are quite happy to go all out to prepare fine foods for a dragon's consumption--concepts that blow Laurence away even as they tempt Temeraire and lead him down some very interesting philosophical paths. When he raises the brooding question to Laurence of what would happen to him if he chose to stop serving in the aerial corps, that entire discussion is chock full of absolutely right. I loved, loved, loved seeing Temeraire point out that a dragon in British society is not permitted to own his own things, to go where he wishes, or do what he wants--even if it might be to live quietly in an unpopulated area. Also absolutely right is Laurence's unhappy realization that Temeraire is right, and that he cannot in conscience try to defend that state of injustice.

The ship's encounter with the sea serpent especially brings this home--how Temeraire laments that he was unable to talk the sea dragon into backing off, and how he argues to Laurence that just because she didn't know how to communicate with humans didn't mean she wasn't intelligent. And again, Laurence is filled with the unhappy realization that Temeraire is right.

Once they reach China, the ante is upped even further. We see dragons in the streets intermingled with humans. We see dragons buying things with a form of money. We see dragons who can and do read and write, and Temeraire leaps upon the opportunity to learn to do these things with great vigor. And we see Laurence really have it sink in that he cannot in good conscience ask Temeraire not to stay there.

Of course, once we get to China we also start getting more of the other plot thread--that Yongxing is really pulling an underhanded plot. Some fun intrigue there, indeed. And we also get what turns out to be a bit of a deus ex machina--the whole idea that if the Chinese are so snippy about a Celestial being paired off with anyone who isn't a member of the imperial family, why doesn't the Emperor just adopt Laurence as a son?

Which he does, and while that does make sense as an elegant and bloodless solution, it did seem a bit weak and convenient to me--the only thin spot in an otherwise excellent plot. I kind of saw it coming with all the interest the Chinese delegation showed in Laurence's family being connected with the British royal line--especially when Temeraire's mother brought it up again later. But I think I would have liked it a lot better if we'd gotten more on-camera mileage with the actual Emperor. We only see him as part of the adoption ceremony; we don't get to see how he reacts to the whole idea. We don't get any idea of what he's like as a person at all. I mean, I'd think that being adopted as a son by the Chinese Emperor, even if it's really only a political gesture, is a fairly hefty thing to happen to a white man from Britain. We barely even get a sense of how this changes his standing in Chinese society.

And of course, it's absolutely no surprise that Laurence ultimately expects that Temeraire will want to stay, and that he begins to resign himself to having to learn Chinese and how to fit in--and that in turn Temeraire of course wants to return to Britain with him. Not only because of Laurence wanting to be in his own homeland, but also because Temeraire does not like the idea of Maximus and Lily continuing to live in what essentially amounts to slavery when he knows now that things can be better.

There are other wonderful moments all over the book--like Temeraire getting his first chance at mating with a female dragon. Like Temeraire embarrassing the hell out of Laurence when he finds out human babies don't hatch from eggs (muahaha!). Like Riley finding out that Emily Roland is in fact a girl, and Laurence having to explain to him that the aerial corps does in fact include women. Like the Chinese aerial corps being exclusively women. Like all the bits involving Yongxing's albino dragon companion, and how she is shunned because of her color--and how she leaps to Yongxing's defense in the final battle between her and Temeraire.

And all in all, I'm definitely happy to see Novik's skill continuing and am looking greatly forward to seeing if Temeraire gets a chance to follow up on the revolutionary ideas he wants to bring to the dragons in Britain. Long live the Great Dragon Revolution! ;)
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Quotes Angela Liked

Naomi Novik
“I am very tired of this Government, which I have never seen, and which is always insisting that I must do disagreeable things, and does no good to anybody.”
Naomi Novik, Throne of Jade

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