Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

Throne of JadeThis is the second book in the Temeraire series, and Will Laurence and his dragon find themselves beset by politics, rather than the conventional sort of conflict. The Chinese emperor has sent a delegation to demand that Temeraire be returned to them, as the celestial dragons are reserved for emperors only, and since Temeraire did not end up with Napoleon, as originally intended, he must return to China. The British diplomats and politicians do not want China to enter the war on the side of the French, so they are bending over backwards to accommodate their demands. In the end, Will and Temeraire board a transport ship bound for the Far East, as they are inseparable, hoping to work things out when they arrive at their destination.

One of the Emperor's nephews, Yongxing, is in charge of the Chinese group, and he is unremittingly hostile towards Will for the entire journey. They are attacked at one point by the French and some of their dragons, and only Temeraire's Divine Wind breath weapon saves the expedition from disaster. They also encounter an enormous sea serpent which attempts to crush the ship and eat the sailors (a la Voyage of the Dawn Treader, perhaps?). Will himself is attacked by one of the Chinese who has either gone mad or is under secret orders from Prince Yongxing. They encounter many strange lands and peoples along the way, though a voyage that took months seemed curiously short in this book.

When they finally arrive in China, they are delayed in seeing the emperor, until he has returned from his visit to another part of the country, and they get to get out and experience a totally different culture. One of the things that's rather interesting is the way dragons are integrated into Chinese society, in contrast to the English. In England, people are still very fearful of dragons, and they are either in captivity for breeding, or kept in the coverts where they train to fly with their crews for warfare. They are well taken care of, like a thoroughbred racehorse, but they have no property of their own, receive no wages, and are not citizens, though they are indeed for the most part as intelligent as men.

In China, however, dragons are everywhere, and for the most part the common ones fend for themselves, taking employment fitting to their talents, receiving wages, eating at restaurants (with a bit different menu from humans, of course) and buying goods they desire. The upper crust of dragondom, the imperials and celestials, live in splendor with the royalty, and are treated with great respect. They are very literate, and create works of art and write poetry. This whole situation provides a new challenge in Will and Temeraire's relationship, and should set up some interesting side plots when they return home in the next installment.

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