Throne of Jade

by Naomi Novik

Cover image

Series: Temeraire #2
Publisher: Del Rey
Copyright: 2006
ISBN: 0-345-48129-1
Format: Mass market
Pages: 398

Buy at Powell's Books

This is the second book in Novik's Napoleonic War with dragons series. She does some recap and the first book didn't have a huge amount of plot, so it could probably be read out of order, but reading His Majesty's Dragon first is recommended for an introduction to the characters.

The first book was character introduction and scene setting, light on plot. This second book is where I was expecting Novik to pick up both the pace and the complexity of the overall storyline, and the start of the book had a great deal of promise. The Chinese are getting involved, Laurence and Temeraire are put in a difficult position partly opposing their government, the story takes an abrupt shift of geography and background and heads to the far east, and there's plenty of tension and conflict to be had. Unfortunately, what follows is a disappointment, turning into a leisurely ramble across the sea, a few random encounters and conflicts, and then a bit of political intrigue in China which never sufficiently engrosses the characters and which is more explained than shown.

I'm worried plot may be Novik's weak point. There was quite a bit of potential here in a story of cultural conflicts, between England and China, between the Navy and the Aerial Corps, and in the contrast between how dragons are treated in China and in Europe. Temeraire starts to question the place of dragons in England somewhat after seeing slavers while rounding Africa, and even more when he sees dragons walking through the streets of China and buying food with their own money. This could have formed an engrossing subtext to a larger diplomatic conflict with China with internal complications, but Novik mostly talks through the issues rather than dramatically illustrating them, leaves Temeraire acting like a sulky or distracted teenager for much of the book, and plays out the political conflicts more as a travelogue than a tense drama. The emotions are all there, but without a strong plot to drive them they don't carry as much force.

I liked Temeraire of His Majesty's Dragon much better than Temeraire in Throne of Jade. He no longer steals scenes the way he did in the first book, and is even sidelined for much of the drama towards the end of this novel. Some of this is my personal bias; I find reading about adolescents frequently annoying, and Temeraire is clearly going through an adolescence. But some, too, is that Temeraire felt like he lost emotional depth since the first book. More of his reactions were predictable and there was less of the enjoyable byplay of Temeraire and Laurence against the world. The feature of this book is instead the glory and drama of China with dragons, which is indeed well-drawn, but it takes much of the book to get there.

That said, it's well-paced and quite readable. I particularly approve of Novik's tendency to jump over transitional scenes and start new chapters once again in medias res with brief recaps; the reader rarely has to sit through narrative that just moves characters from point A to point B. I just want more: more depth, more intrigue, more subtext. To reach the potential I saw after the first book, I'd like to see either a substantial increase in plot complexity or a substantial increase in character development and emotional depth. Without that, I fear the series is going to stall out at the level of enjoyable fluff.

Followed by Black Powder War.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-07-06

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21