Throne of Jade, by Naomi Novik

Throne of Jade by Naomi NovikThrone of Jade is the second book in Naomi Novik’s series Temeraire, set in the Napoleonic wars and following Temeraire and Will Laurence of the Aerial Corps. I picked it up as part of a three-book set right after I finished an abridged audiobook version of the first book, His Majesty’s Dragon.

Laurence started: it had not occurred to him that Temeraire might not have viewed the sea-serpent as the monstrous creature it seemed to him. “Temeraire, you cannot think that beast anything like a dragon,” he said. “It had no speech, nor intelligence; I dare say you are right that it came looking for food, but any animal can hunt.”

“Why should you say such things?” Temeraire said. “You mean that she did not speak English, or French, or Chinese, but she was an ocean creature; how ought she have learned any human languages, if she was not tended by people in the shell? I would not understand them myself otherwise, but that would not mean I did not have intelligence.”

The story so far

The Chinese had finally found out that the Celestial dragon egg they had given to Bonaparte had fallen into English hands–and he has been used in wars and is companion to a common soldier. Affronted, they have come to take Temeraire back–but neither Temeraire nor Laurence is of a mind to part from each other.

The solution: they both travel to China.

On a dragon transport and captained by Laurence’s old second lieutenant, Captain Riley, they spend months in the dangerous sea: storms, enemy ships, dangerous sea-serpents and dragon sniffles to boot, but also working out the rough relations between aviators, sea-men, and the Chinese, all the while England’s situation with Bonaparte is turning ever worse. Yet there is no assurance that things will be better once they land: they will have little power once in China, their only bargaining chip Temeraire’s refusal to part with Laurence.

It’s a slower time for Laurence and Temeraire, with no training or fights to worry about, but neither is it a less dangerous time: not only for the issues pressing on them, but on Temeraire’s awakening sensibilities, being exposed to more ideas and ills of the world he moves around in.

Poignant and thought-provoking from the start

The first few scenes of this book was wonderful–right from the start, it tugged at my heart and reduced me quite to tears. It’s definitely a more emotional book than the first–a bit slower, dealing more with Temeraire’s intellectual awakening, if you will. Faced with different customs, different creatures, slave-ports and ships, and the idea that his reality is not the only reality in the world–Temeraire needs to process all that, and while you’re also pretty sure he would never leave Laurence, sometimes you worry too, that maybe it’s not so clear-cut after all.

I loved seeing Captain Riley again, and interesting to see Laurence and Riley on equal footing–actually maybe with Riley slightly ahead, what with Laurence being on his ship.

The pieces where the characters try to make sense of the other group’s norms–like a couple of horrible dinners that seemed nothing short of disaster–were quite entertaining. It’s interesting to see the contrast between the English and the Chinese; as a fellow Asian, it really is quite hilarious to read through their dinners with chopsticks and noodles. The personalities in the Chinese party are also interesting, and while we don’t really see them until near the end, they are still a joy to read about.

A pleasing second

Throne of Jade was a pleasing follow-up to His Majesty’s Dragon, if slower in pace and more thought-provoking than the first. It doesn’t sacrifice a lot, however, and it’s certainly well-written and enjoyable to get lost in.

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