Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Throne of Jade - Naomi Novik

This is the sequel to the excellent Temeraire, which takes us a bit further into the dragon-infested alternate history that Novik created for the first book. The Napoleonic war is still raging, but the powerful Chinese empire have sent delegates to demand the return of Temeraire, whose egg was intended as a present for Napoleon himself. Reluctant to offend so formidable a nation, and hoping for preferential trade concessions as a reward for compliance, the British government has agreed to return Temeraire to his native land. Obviously, Lawrence has no desire to be separated from his dragon or from his country, but as refusal would mean a hanging for insubordination, he is obliged to accompany Temeraire in the hope they can persuade the Chinese to reconsider.

Will Temeraire be seduced by the wiles of Prince Yongxing and leave Lawrence for a more worthy Imperial companion? Well, obviously not, and despite the dragon's growing dissatisfaction with his standing in British society, the idea that he might defect to China is never made plausible enough to add any suspense. This makes the plot rather less exciting than it should have been, and the Imperial politics of the final section don't do much to alter that; the ending is also fairly weak. However, the plot of the first book was nothing special either and that still managed to be enjoyable - could the same be true for Throne of Jade?

Well, a lot of the fun of Temeraire came from the gradual unveiling of the world, and the reader coming to appreciate Novik's concept of dragons and their place in her society. With a second book, this is harder to do, but the use of different geographical locations made it quite successful. We hear about dangerous wild dragons in the interior of Africa, sea-serpents in the Indian Ocean, and of course the dragon-centric society of China, all of which combined to make Novik's world fascinating and exotic. Unfortunately, there is very little screen-time given to the dragons themselves, and Temeraire is almost reduced to a minor character while Lawrence takes centre-stage; there are also fewer memorable characters.

The book certainly isn't awful, and I fully intend to buy the rest of the series, but this instalment was a pretty workaday affair. It's essentially a long sea journey followed by some simplistic political machinations, and while the world-building is sound, it needs more characters and more plot to liven it up. Worth reading for the background details, but nowhere near as much fun as the first one.



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