(2006) Naomi Novik, Harper Collins, £7.99, pbk, 394 pp, ISBN 978-0-007-2-5872-7
This book follows on from Naomi Novik's first novel, Temeraire (which I have not read), and is set during the time of the Napoleonic wars but introduces an innovative twist on the subject matter and features dragons as a vital part of the war effort. As an avid reader of the Sharpe novels, and having a keen interest in history I found it a little difficult getting to grips with the idea of a fantasy element within a historical setting. Not having read the first book in the series I found it quite a challenge relate to the characters, the internal politics surrounding the protagonists' involvement in the war and the overall concepts.
It follows the fortunes of Captain Will Laurence and his dragon charge, Temeraire I the Napoleonic wars. Laurence finds himself settling into the role of Aviator and now finds the Chinese government intent on the return of Temeraire. The British government are unable to refuse them despite the importance of Temeraire, and this sends Laurence and his dragon companion back to the Far East...
The characters are well introduced in this book and their motivations well defined as the story unfolds. A particularly rewarding element for me was that the book bears in mind the era in which it is set and the roles of genders. Hence, female dragon riders are disguised as males to prevent a scandal - this is set into context by anecdotes about them being found out. The descriptions of the environments encountered also help the story along, providing a context for the experiences of the central characters.
The character Temeraire is well written and his back-story begins to be revelled as the story progresses, particularly in relation to his past experiences with the Chinese. This leads to Temeraire's views and opinions on the treatment of dragons in China compared with those in Britain. It also sparks a number of philosophical elements including the issue of "beggar dragons" whose needs are tended to in Britain but with very little freedom, whilst in China they are left to fend for themselves with what can be termed as the responsibilities of freedom. As with the previous book, the main element that interested me was the way the dragons were written, and to find out about the back-stories of specific dragons, and how their lives were shaped from before they hatched and the implications here are interesting.
The story is quite emotive as well, given the attachment Laurence has been enabled to form with Temeraire. Laurence never intended to be an aviator and was nominated to be so by Temeraire, and therefore was positioned into leaving behind his intended comfortable lifestyle to take on a completely different lifestyle. The characters work well together and have a rapport that belies a well written established friendship.
I would certainly recommend reading the first novel in this series before commencing this one in order to appreciate the significance of Laurence and Temeraire's bond and the environment this book is set in. As I mentioned in my review of the preceding book, this series would certainly interest anyone who appreciates fantasy within a factual setting. The book provides a unique take on the Napoleonic wars with its use of dragons and I found that even though it was hard to get to grips with at first, it is certainly something that grows on you.
Sue's above review is of particular interest to those who, like her, have not read Temeraire, the first in the series. Here (click on title link) is an alternate review of Throne of Jade from someone who has read the first one.
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