Throne of Jade – Naomi Novik

Ok, I officially give up. The reviews from the pile-up *will* be posted, I just have no idea when. They are mostly written. I’ve just been pretty useless. BUT NEVER MIND.

During the course of a train journey today, I read the second Temeraire novel (Napoleonic War with dragons, if you’re not aware). It very much continues the excellence of the previous book, with all new flavours of lovely. I mean, I won’t lie, it’s not the most stunningly written bit of literature in the universe, but it’s good enough for some enjoyable, light and silly train-lit. The one thing that is very different, however, is it touches on slightly not-okayness in regards to the descriptions etc. of China.

Brief synopsis: Temeraire (the dragon) is considered by China too awesome and super-duper for some British randomer to be riding about on, swashbuckling and heroing. Thus, they want him back and don’t care whom they insult in the process (actually their entire embassy and argument seems rooted in insulting people, so, yeah…). Temeraire and his captain are none too pleased, but those gosh darned bureaucrats stick their noses in with their sensible points about not losing trade routes with the whole of China. How dare they. Thus begins exciting voyage with a Chinese prince and some other dudes, plus adventures and whatnot.

The problem I have is that the book is seen through the lens of Captain Laurence, who is obviously of his time, and thus not particularly bothered about saying not-very-nice things about Chinese people. I see that this may be a Reason. And it isn’t anywhere near as bad as an accurately period-context piece could probably be. But it still feels… I don’t know… a touch unnecessary at times. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. There was nothing particularly concrete that I can say “this bit, this bit is not good”, just a general sense of nyrk. As such, while it didn’t make me dislike the book per se, it made me less favourable to it than the previous one.

It does get better towards the end, for reasons of <spoiler>, too. This combined with the attitudes of the main characters does a lot to detract from the nyrk. So it’s a very minor niggle, at least for me. Also being in China meant MOAR BREEDS OF DRAGON which I was totally ok with because Novik is pretty good at dragon descriptions. I also really liked the scene where a load of dragons take afternoon tea. It is very pleasing.

Other minor niggle, the book is not nearly so action-packed as the previous. A lot of the story takes place over the course of a journey, and tends to deviate a little away from Temeraire and more towards Laurence and politics and the such, which I am less keen on. I am not reading these for Napoleonic history, damnit, I’m reading them for the dragons.

On the other hand, Temeraire does get some more character growth, and we see Laurence back in a naval setting but no longer a navy officer, which is kind of cool and jarring compared to the start of the first book. It is very nice to see how he has partially assimilated into the air corps and their mindset but also partly not, so moving the book back to a naval setting made a lot of his character development very stark. I liked that.

Most importantly, it does maintain the fun, light, silly and amusing tone of the first book, and for no other reason (ok, fine, also dragons), it is a genuine pleasure to read. I will certainly be buying the sequel.

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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