Naomi Novik’s Throne of Jade is a wonderful addition to her alternate history fantasy series. This novel, the second entry in the series, sees Laurence and Temeraire traveling to China on a sensitive mission. The Chinese want Temeraire back, and - of course - the dragon will have none of being separated from Laurence. But where this really shines is how Novik uses the backdrop of her alternative history to explore issues that are incredibly relevant to our world today.
One place where Novik excels in this novel, and I think it’s a very subtle thing, is in realistically imagining her world. She skillfully crafts a believable version of what the world would have been like in 1806 if dragons were well known throughout the world. I thought this was particularly true in the juxtaposition between the way dragons are treated and how they integrate into society in China versus how they do so in Europe. Having read Throne of Jade I can only say, “Yes. That is exactly how it would have gone down.” It’s not only the realism of the setting that sets this novel apart, but also the characterization and particularly the interaction between Laurence and Temeraire. This novel is much more a character story than the first novel in the series, and as such the action comes a bit inconsistently throughout the novel. You don’t notice this as much as you might, however, because what the novel is really about is how the trust and friendship that Laurence and Temeraire have built up is tested in new and interesting ways. This connects into the world building because dragons occupy such a different role in society in China compared to England, where Laurence hails from and where Temeraire has so far been raised. Not only does Novik craft a world that is itself believable, but her characters react to and interact with events in this world in consistent and believable ways. There are still some tense battles, especially in the first half of the novel, so those who enjoyed that aspect of the first novel won’t find it completely absent from the sequel.
As I mentioned above, there were moments when the action took a backseat in this novel. That isn’t a problem for me, because this is so clearly a character story. On the other hand, there were a couple times when it felt like the narrative became just a little too verbose and might have benefited from being a little more tightly written. Since the story focused even more in on the relationship between Laurence and Temeraire, it also felt like the side characters continued to suffer in comparison. Not that they are bad, but that in comparison to the detail we receive regarding Laurence and Temeraire they don’t quite measure up. I even have a hard time calling this an actual weakness, since this really is a story about Laurence and Temeraire.
Throne of Jade is an excellent character story with moments of intense action. It was very fun to read. If you enjoy character stories set in very believable alternative versions of earth, then this is for you. Even if alternate history fantasy isn’t normally your thing, you should give this one a try. It has dragons! More importantly, it’s an entirely worthy sequel to His Majesty’s Dragon.
Review by Calvin Park
8.5/10 from 1 reviews
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