Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Jade Rebellion

Several months back, I wrote about the first book of Naomi Novik's Temeraire saga, a fantasy series that cleverly places dragons into the historical setting of the Napoleonic wars. That first book was an entertaining read, buoyed by the sense of "what might have been," and by the fun personality of the star dragon (and his relationship with his captain, Laurence). So, interspersed with other books, I decided to continue with the series.

Book Two, Throne of Jade, sees the Chinese laying claim to Temeraire. As England does not wish to incite them into support of Napoleon, Captain Laurence is ordered to see the dragon transported to China. The premise hints at a fun expansion of the series' core concept, promising dragons mixed into another historical culture. It also suggests a story of diplomacy and intrigue. Unfortunately, very little of that promise is fulfilled in the actual novel.

In practice, two-thirds of the book is devoted to getting Temeraire to China. The sea voyage is chronicled in excruciating detail, making mountainous chapters out of the minutia of shipboard life. There are occasional sequences of mild adventure, thanks to rough weather and other ocean hazards. But when you get down to it, a months-long journey around the South African Cape is far from the most exhilarating tale one could tell in a saga about war in the early 1800s. And it's outright squandering the uniqueness of involving dragons in that historical setting.

The final act is disappointing too. Without getting too specific about the book's ending, the core conflict in the plot is resolved in a quite lackluster fashion. Seemingly aware of her book's lack of action, Novik contrives a lengthy battle sequence in the final act. But the problem of Temeraire's reclamation by China is resolved in a disappointingly slight number of pages after so much preamble.

The characters of Temeraire and Captain Laurence do remain interesting, both individually and in their unusual friendship with each other. But it's really not enough to save a dull slog of a book that immediately robs all momentum in the series that the first book built up. I feel generous giving Throne of Jade a C-.

At this point, I find myself at a crossroads: whether to cut my losses now before being drawn any further into a nine book saga, or to give one more book a chance in the hopes that it will be more like the first than the second. One thing's for sure, I'll be reading some other things before coming back around to answer that question.

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