Throne of Jade
by Naomi Novik
Review by Paul Haggerty
Del Rey Mass Market ISBN/ITEM#: 0345481291
Date: 25 April, 2006 List Price $7.50 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
A Chinese delegation, headed up by the Emperor's brother, has arrived in London having discovered that their present to the Emperor of France has gone astray. Outraged by what they perceive as a most vile insult, they demand Temeraire be returned to them, and the British government, fearing a war on another front while all their forces are bent on preventing Napoleon from conquering Europe, have decided to capitulate. However, much to the consternation of both sides, Temeraire, though not opposed to visiting China, will not leave Laurence or his personal flight crew. All the begging and threats two empires can bring to bear are futile in the face of one very stubborn dragon. And thus begins a voyage around the world and an introduction to the Imperial Court of China, where intrigue and treachery are a way of life.
Throne of Jade is less a war novel (although there are plenty of battles and more good people are lost), and more a novel of exploration, discovery, and diplomacy. All the battle dragons in the world aren't going to change the Emperor mind, so some other solution is going to be needed. But there are agenda's everywhere and your ally one day will be your adversary the next. Britain has designs on the East, the trading companies have designs on the East, there are factions within factions within the Chinese government. And everybody seems willing to make sacrifices (of other people of course) if it will advance their goals. The one dragon and a handful of soldiers from a far off land will need to unravel the plots and schemes if they they hope to survive, never mind return home.
While the first novel focused on introducing us to this alternate Britain and the techniques of war using dragons as an air force, this second novel explores more of the world and what is going on in it, and most importantly, why several things we learned in the first book are, in fact, absolutely wrong. It's one of the strong points to a story when people of good faith can believe in the rightness of their actions, with strong evidence to back them up, and then come crashing into another equally valid, but mutually exclusive world view. And it's one of the signs of a complex character when they actually have to spend time and energy reconciling what they knew with what they know.
In His Majesty's Dragon we learn that dragons must be harnessed at birth, or they turn wild and dangerous. Dragons are intelligent, but still just animals and need to be controlled for the safety of all. In Throne of Jade, the dragons of China are not introduced to a human companion until after years of private study. The dragons roam freely through the cities, and even have personal bank accounts for use in purchasing things. They are, in fact, considered as equals (if not superiors) to humans and are afforded courtesy and respect.
Laurence finds this bizarre and troubling and spends a good deal of the book contemplating this influx of new and radical philosophy. Temeraire finds it fascinating and can't wait to tell the British government so that they can change all the laws of Britain accordingly. After all, once it's pointed out they were wrong, they'll want to change, won't they? If Laurence can get through the next year without being hanged by his own side, it will be a miracle.