Saturday, September 25, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik
ISBN: 978-0-345-48129-0


When Britain intercepted a French ship and its precious cargo – an unhatched dragon’s egg - Capt. Will Laurence of HMS Reliant unexpectedly became master and commander of the noble dragon he named Temeraire. As new recruits in Britain’s Aerial Corps, man and dragon soon proved their mettle in daring combat against Bonaparte’s invading forces.

Now China has discovered that its rare gift, intended for Napoleon, has fallen into British hands – and an angry Chinese delegation vows to reclaim the remarkable beast. But Laurence refuses to cooperate. Facing the gallows for his defiance, the captain has no choice but to accompany Temeraire back to the Far East – a long voyage fraught with peril, intrigue, and the untold terrors of the deep. Yet once the pair reaches the court of the Chinese emperor, even more shocking discoveries and darker dangers await.


My Thoughts:

If you recall, I reviewed part one of this series some time ago (you can find that review here) and I really enjoyed it. I had high hopes for the second instalment and I was just a little disappointed. I know I’ve talked about lacklustre second acts before; it seems to be symptomatic for some fantasy authors, so I’m still hopeful for part three. And Throne of Jade wasn’t that bad, it just took a while to get started. Before I get into the review, let me just say that it’s likely going to contain spoilers for the first part, so if you haven’t read it yet and care about these things you should stop reading now.

Right then. The problem I had with this novel is the long sea voyage – it just dragged and I was bored. I just wanted to skip ahead and get to the interesting part, because I held out hope for an interesting part all along (which was happily rewarded).  I got the sense that everything that happened along the way – sea monsters attacking the ship, assassination attempts and various negative (and a very few positive) interactions between the crew, the aviators accompanying Temeraire and the Chinese -  were just thrown in there to make the interminable travel more appealing to the reader. For me, this tactic didn’t work. I really just wanted to get to China. If the characterizations had been stronger, I think the voyage could have been a great place to show how Temeraire was growing as he comes in contact with the Chinese delegation. What little we see of this growth is filtered through Laurence and thus comes off in a negative light since he’s filled with anxiety over losing his dragon to the Chinese – if not through force then through persuasion. Laurence’s fears are important, but the story is somewhat one-sided since the dialogue between dragon and rider was a strong element in the first book, but isn’t as much in the forefront here.

The story definitely picked up once we got to China. The descriptions of the settings and the way that they approach dragons compared to what we saw in England were well done and drew me back into being interested in what was happening. The dragons in China were part of society instead of separate from it.  They had their own social strata - which mirrored human society - and had different callings.  There were poet dragons and worker dragons and fighter dragons.  This was a good juxtaposition to the British system where dragons are only used in the military and then treated as nothing more than intelligent animals. The action here also didn’t feel like it was just meant as a filler to make the story interesting, but fit into the plot, along with the political intrigue (which still could have been stronger I think, but it was better than the subdued version on the ship). The pacing overall was better once we were back on land.

Laurence’s fears were somehow more palpable in the latter sections of the book – his anxiety that Temeraire might choose to stay in China even if the diplomatic mission succeeded in obtaining the British right to keep him slowly crept up as he learned more about the Chinese dragons and their relationship to people. On the ship he was bordering on petty with his opinions and behaviours. This attitude slowly changes as he sees how much Temeraire wants to learn and his growth in a short period of being exposed to such a different way of doing things. I do think that it could have used more Temeraire, because he really is the star character of the book. Since we’re on the topic of characters – some of the crew members felt more like they were there to be cannon fodder rather than actual supporting characters.

The conclusion seemed like it wrapped things up in a too-neat package.  Maybe I'm spoiled from reading fantasy novels with solid political intrigues that even in resolution leave problems for the characters - Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel books come to mind here - but this ending just didn't have enough strength to it.  There was so much slow build-up of the struggle to keep Temeraire and then all of these hurdles are overcome easily with a simple ceremony that is too-easily granted.  The only uncertainty that remained was Temeraire's choice (which I won't spoil here).  It was just a bit of a let-down as far as endings go and didn't necessarily set up enough conflict to pull you through into the third book.

So I’ve done a lot of complaining, haven’t I? As a second act this novel was mostly disappointing. The last third saved it from being a complete disappointment. I am still hopeful that book three will pick up again and be as strong as the first one.

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