Temeraire: Throne of Jade
by Naomi Novik
Review by John Berlyne
Voyager Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0007219121
Date: 07 August, 2006 List Price £12.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
I've been eagerly awaiting the release of Throne of Jade, the second in Naomi Novik's Temeraire sequence - a beautifully realised story in which an airborne dragon corps is a major fighting force during the time of Napoleon. I was very struck by the first novel and thoroughly looking forward to this one! Definitely one of my top picks of the year. Throne of Jade (which has already been released in the US) is a hardcover from HaperCollins Voyager. The third novel, Black Powder War, like the second is already available in the US - it will be released here in the UK in January 2007. I was quite taken with Naomi Novik's debut novel, Temeraire (released in the US as His Majesty's Dragon) when it appeared at the beginning of the year (see my review here). A wonderful fusion of historical and fantasy fiction, Temeraire introduced us to a Napoleonic age in which dragons are an integral part and Novik's story, centring on the relationship between an impressive, but impressionable young dragon and his stiff, formal ex-Navel officer handler. As a debut novel, I found Temeraire remarkably accomplished, particularly in terms of character and setting. I don't think I've ever met a more charming dragon!
The second novel in this sequence (it is, I hear, likely that Temeraire will stretch beyond a single trilogy, which is great news) has now been released in the UK. Throne of Jade has already been seen by US readers - it was published as a paperback original by Del Rey in April 06 - but this new UK edition from Voyager is a smart hardcover, which will delight collectors.
Following on from the climactic final battle scene of book one, Throne of Jade opens with a delegation from China demanding the return of their dragon. You may recall that the dragon egg that hatched into Temeraire was originally seized from a French warship which was transporting it from China as gift for Napoleon and that it was the unexpected hatching of the egg that caused Captain Laurence to become the reluctant aviator.
The bond between Laurence and Temeraire is now seemingly unbreakable – this is singularly the greatest strength in Novik's work, for their relation is movingly depicted and entirely plausible (within the confines of the story). Neither wishes to be parted from the other, but there are politics involved and the government leans heavily on Laurence to do his duty for King and Country. He cannot refuse to do their bidding under such pressure and so he and Temeraire must accompany the Chinese delegation and set off on a journey to the home of the Celestial Dragon. Much of Throne of Jade therefore – certainly a good two thirds of it – is set on board ship. Such confinement makes the scope of the novel much narrower than the preceding book in the sequence. This second instalment is not without incident and intrigue, but it is thinner in terms of plot. Nevertheless Novik once again charms readers, keying into the mannerisms of the period effortlessly. Certainly she has done her research, and there is a wonderful ring of authenticity in the tone of the narrative. Occasionally – perhaps inevitably - the odd slip occurs, all the more glaring for its scarcity – an Americanism will slip into the dialogue or some anachronism will be mentioned (for example, one of the officers tells of the potential uproar that might ensure were he to land his dragon in London's Regent's Park – however, the park was not opened until four or five years after the time the action of Throne of Jade takes place. It's a nit-pick, but an important one, nevertheless for such errors can greatly effect a reader's enjoyment of a novel.)
In spite of the slight claustrophobia of being at sea for long, on reaching China, the story opens up, and we experience an ingeniously imagined country where dragons are an integral part of the society. At one point there's a lovely description of them being used as public transport! And it's fascinating too to see Temeraire''s reaction to the way his fellow beasts are regarded in the East. But there's danger here as well, and lots of politics, and Novik weaves these facets of her story in quite brilliantly. Above all, Throne of Jade sees the core relationship between Laurence and Temeraire develop further and Novik fills out the world in which her novels place – which is pretty much the prescribed model of the second novel in any trilogy.
Readers in the US already have access to the third novel, Black Powder War, but UK readers (who don't wish to buy an import copy) will have to wait until January 2007 to read it. For myself, I shall be waiting with great eagerness to see what happens.
A very enjoyable and beautifully written series.