I started re-reading the entire Temeraire series recently. I didn’t post a new review of His Majesty’s Dragon, because I felt my original review said everything that needed to be said. Throne of Jade, however, has been lingering on my to-reread shelf for years, a somewhat hyperbolic five stars attached to it, no explanation. So it’s only fair I give it a review it deserves. Yes, I’ve downgraded it to a satisfactory three stars. But that still means it’s good.
If you haven’t read His Majesty’s Dragon yet, then you have no business jumping into the series with the second book. It’s not that you will be lost so much as bored. Naomi Novik provides little in the way of backstory or exposition here, but any reader paying attention will quickly clue into the fact that his is an alternative history of the Napoleonic Wars with dragons. Whereas His Majesty’s Dragon features plenty of aerial battles and dragon-fights, Throne of Jade is more about the political fallout of William Laurence captaining a Chinese Celestial dragon for the British.
I chose to read this book now because I wanted a quick read. Sure enough, I flew through this in about a day. Even though it isn’t perfect, it is compelling. Novik ends her chapters abruptly, not always on cliffhangers but often enough in ways that make you want to keep reading, even when you know you should be going to bed, or doing something more … er … productive. That was true for the first book, and it is no less true for Throne of Jade, even though most of this book is spent on a tedious journey around Africa to China.
Novik remains committed to a certain level of realism. Despite dragons being a thing, there is no magically faster method of travelling to China. So Laurence and Temeraire set off via dragon transport, the least stylish way to travel. Rather than handwave an eight month journey, Novik chooses to examine the unique situation of our protagonists. This is one of the longest journeys undertaken by a transport, so there is considerable time for tension between the navy men and Laurence’s aviators (including the scandalously female Roland). Oh, and the presence of a Chinese delegation certainly doesn’t help anything.
So there are storms and sea serpents, dinners and parties, and Temerair shows that he knows how to swim. It’s alternatively charming and boring and hilarious. And then we finally get to China, and more politics and even some drama ensues.
Throne of Jade reminds me of How to Train Your Dragon. There are more dragons here than there is fighting. And, indeed, I’d definitely recommend this series to an older fan of the How to Train Your Dragon books or movies who wants some slightly older dragon-themed literature. Novik’s intelligent, talkative dragons are every bit as endearing as Toothless. Temeraire’s firebrand politics allow Novik to interrogate the problematic parts of eighteenth-century European culture.
Whereas the first book featured a lot class, family, and gender issues, the sequel focuses on racism and colonialism. Laurence is, naturally, a product of his times. He has adjusted to having women serve with him, but only because it is a necessity—as a proper gentleman, of course, he couldn’t possible condone it as being ordinary or fitting! Similarly, he sees himself as progressive in his support for abolition. Yet Temeraire challenges him on issues of slavery, drawing parallels between slavery and the service of dragons in Britain’s military. And, of course, there is the meeting of West and East, with each seeing the other as “barbaric” and uncivilized.
I love Temeraire. I love how he refuses to be placated when people threaten Laurence. I love his sheepishness when trying to explain his absence to Laurence while they are in China. Novik does a fine job making Temeraire both a person and, as a dragon, alien in some of his morals and points of view.
Throne of Jade is a worthy sequel to the first book. Ultimately, however, I suspect it will be the Feast of Crows of the Temeraire series: worthy on its own merits, but pales in comparison to some of the more dramatic instalments. But I definitely urge you to check out the series, starting with the first book, and read on from there.