REVIEW SUMMARY: Continues the story begun in His Majesty’s Dragon but doesn’t offer the same sense of adventure as the first book. Only in the growth of the main characters does this book offer something new.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After discovering the dragon Temeraire is a special Chinese breed reserved only for royalty, Will Laurence is thrust into the depth of political intrigue in imperial China.
PROS: Continues in Novik’s easy to read style, the characters grow and improve.
CONS: Lacks the high adventure from the first book.
BOTTOM LINE: If you loved the first one, you’ll probably enjoy reading more.
I had high hopes for this book after greatly enjoying the story Novik spun with the first novel. Unfortunately, while that book was a solid adventure novel, this one was merely a story. The action and excitement that punctuated His Majestey’s Dragon is missing here. There are battle scenes, but they are few. The story drags quite a bit at points, and seems bogged down in the journey to China rather than in the action there. Novik’s attempts to make the Chinese royal family inscrutable to the British at once makes them both impossible to understand at times and yet boorishly simple at others. For example, there is a mystery of an assassination plot that was laid out well but paid off poorly. The book also ends abruptly – likely because it and the follow-on were booksplit.
The one element of this book that I thoroughly enjoyed was the growing sense of disenfranchisement of the dragon Tremeraire. He starts off believing that his lot in life – to be a war dragon fighting for the British out of a sense of duty – is fair and reasonable, but then he starts to question that in this book. He sees slaves and hears Laurence complain about the unfairness of slavery and then wonders if he himself, is not a slave. He sees other dragons (in China) able to buy food when they are hungry or shop whenever they want and sees even his life with the military to be nothing more than a gilded cage. All told, this element of the story was told brilliantly in this book and is the major redeeming quality. Laurence and Temeraire both grow as characters through their recognition of this double standard.
I personally enjoyed reading it but primarily because I like the easy going style of Novik’s writing and the characters that she has created. But after the first novel I was hoping for more of griping naval battles that reminded me of the writing of C.S. Forester only to be mildly dissapointed.