THRONE OF JADE
by Naomi Novik
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Throne of Jade is the second novel by Naomi Novik to follow the adventures of Will Laurence and his dragon Temeraire in the early nineteenth century. Part Dragonriders of Pern, part Aubrey and Maturin, Throne of Jade focuses more on the naval aspects of the period than its predecessor did and less on the manner in which the English raise their dragons.
The novel begins about six months after the events in His Majesty's Dragon. The Chinese have discovered that the Celestial dragon egg they had sent to Napoleon as a present was captured by the English and they were raising the dragon for combat. A mission has been sent to England, led by Prince Yongxing to have the dragon, Temeraire, returned to the China. Despite the wishes of the Chinese embassy and the English government, Temeraire refuses to go without Laurence, and so Laurence and his flight crew set sail from England for China.
Much of the novel is taken up by the sea voyage, and although Novik manages to keep the voyage interesting with her descriptions of naval warfare, friction between the aviators, sailors, and Chinese, and an attack by a sea serpent, this section of the book also manages to get across the very real tedium of such a long sea voyage. Novik's depiction of the trip has a sense of verisimilitude and clearly shows she has done the research necessary without being pedantic.
Throughout the course of the novel, Novik raises numerous interesting philosophical questions. Temeraire's run-in with the sea serpent raises the question of sentience in various creatures and the way it is, or should, be treated. While it was easy to see dragons' place in the world in His Majesty's Dragon, when Novik only looked at England's treatment of the creatures, with the dragons' role in China shown, the question of their treatment in England is raised. While Novik doesn't always provide answers for these questions in Throne of Jade, she does set up the issues for future examination.
One of the weakness of His Majesty's Dragon is, unfortunately, amplified in Throne of Jade. In both books, Novik postulates a world in which dragons are a known entity and have been for at least two thousand years. Despite their presence and working relationship with humans (in, at least, China, France, and England, and presumably elsewhere), the influence of dragons on human history is negligible. The same people exist, the same events happened, and society is the same as in our own world. Dragons, and their clear intelligence, apparently had no affect on philosophy or theology.
While Novik's lack of exploration of the changes wrought in society by the existence of dragons tends to raise questions in the readers mind, once the reader accepts the world as she depicts it, the novel is quite cohesive. Laurence's relationship with Temeraire, shown as solid throughout, is threatened by jealousy and Temeraire's realization that dragons can have more freedom than in England as the Chinese try to drive a wedge between them, but only really appears in danger when the Chinese provide something to Temeraire that Laurence cannot.
Throne of Jade (and His Majesty's Dragon) would be a great deal stronger if Novik had fully considered the implications the presence of dragons would have had on history, society, and philosophy. Without delving into those topics, the books still work well as an examination of a casted society and differing cultures. Perhaps more important, the novel works as a trek novel and Laurence, Temeraire and the crew of the Allegiance make their way from England to China.
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