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Throne of Jade, Naomi Novik

This book is the second in the Temeraire series, which I believe will shortly reach four books. So far, I have found the books to be enjoyable, with a rather comforting feel, but not very deep or complex.

Throne of Jade opens with the Chinese embassy desperately trying to separate Temeraire, a rare Celestial dragon, only for the imperial family, from his captain, Laurence. In the previous book, Laurence and Temeraire found each other when the British captured Temeraire’s egg and later assisted in defeating Napoleon in various battles. In this one, it seems they must outwit the Chinese in order to stay together and to return to England.

The plot is very slow. Novik spends a great deal of time describing adventures on ship that have no real relevance to the plot. She is world-building, but it isn’t very interesting, and as a result the middle of this book drags on and on. They are on a ship for about half the book, and aside from two battles, not much else happens. When Laurence and Temeraire get to China, the plot finally catches up and starts to churn along as the characters make revelations about why they’ve been treated this way.

I think my favorite part is still the affection between dragons and their captains. Laurence and Temeraire are almost like father and child; while this subverts Novik’s attempt to make dragons appear intelligent, it is endearing, and definitely a selling point. Laurence’s friendships with other people are also remembered affectionately, though not fleshed out in this book.

Novik had to bring the book to China in order to make it interesting, but I think there should have been more time in China and less time aboard ship. A lot of the book rests on diplomatic negotiations, which doesn’t do much to enliven the story. Things do happen in this book, it’s just that they are few and far between, and the interactions otherwise don’t provide enough incentive to keep the reader interested. More large-scale battles would have helped. It was interesting to meet Temeraire’s biological family, but there wasn’t really enough focus on them to make that a selling point. Most of the interactions are later described by Temeraire; I think a better solution would have been for Laurence to witness some of the interactions himself, perhaps attending lessons like one of the characters suggested.

I’m hoping that Black Powder War, the next in the series, has more plot. Diplomatic issues do not really make for an interesting book here, even though they have in others. I think Novik needs to speed up the events and cut down on the filler, but keep the friendships and affections in place.

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