As we last left Temeraire, he had just discovered that he is a Celestial dragon, the most rare of all the Chinese breeds. Kept exclusively for the Imperial family, it’s very curious why China might have been sending one to Napoleon, since as far as British intelligence could decipher, China had kept itself out of Western politics. In any event, the Emperor of China sent an envoy including none less than his brother, a prince in his own right, to check on Temeraire, and to bring him back to his rightful place as part of the ruling family.
This is where we start out in the second book of the Temeraire series, Throne of Jade. The ambassador to China, as well as other politicians, is of course more concerned with keeping peace with China than Temeraire’s opinion of leaving England for a new life in China. Once again, through deception, they try to get Temeraire on to a transport ship headed to China. When Laurence won’t agree to this, they simply bring him along as well, since it’s rather hard to get such a large dragon to anything he doesn’t want to do.
Once in China, we get to see how another culture views its dragons. While in the West, dragons are seen as barely controlled, nearly feral creatures that might tend to man-eating, in China they’re treated as citizens, with the Imperial and Celestial breeds being treated as nobility. But even the lowliest of dragons is treated as equal to a human, even needing to hold down jobs to feed themselves, and being able to go to market for dinner and go to the shops to pick up books and goods.
Early on in the book, while Temeraire is on the ship going around Africa, he sees some slave ships being loaded. Laurence’s family has long been against slavery, and Temeraire identifies perhaps a bit too well with these unfortunate souls, especially as during some of the fiercest storms on the ocean, he is chained to the deck to keep his shifting weight from unbalancing the ship. This is further emphasized when he gets to China, where dragons are at liberty to do as they wish, and are generally not used as instruments of war.
Temeraire grows as a character, as well as a person, throughout this book. He begins to question his lot in life, wondering why in China no one is afraid of dragons, and even the streets are wide enough for him to comfortably pass along with the other traffic. His loyalty to Laurence is truly tested, and there is a satisfying, if somewhat sad, conclusion.
Highs: It’s great to see how the different perceptions of dragons around the world play into how dragons are treated in different cultures
Lows: It’s less of a romp than the first one, but more satisfying
Verdict: It’s fun to see Temeraire and Laurence grow as characters and well worth the read.
Further Reading: Black Powder Wars, March Upcountry