Paperback: 656 pages
Publisher: Orbit (4 Nov 2004)
The third volume detailing the adventures of Captain Will Laurence and Temeraire the dragon, as started in His Majesty's Dragon and continued in Throne of Jade.
It's the Napoleonic Wars.
Laurence and Temeraire are still in China after the events of Throne of Jade, but a message comes recalling them to Europe, to urgently collect some dragon's eggs from the Ottoman rulers in Istanbul and bring them home to Britain. Unfortunately, the ship is not yet ready to sail, and they are forced into a journey across the interior of Asia, with the risks attendant on being in strange territories. Also, the dragon Lien, whose companion dies in Throne of Jade, is determined to thwart them in any way she can. Since she's also a Celestial, and much larger and more experienced than Temeraire, she makes a truly formidably enemy, not just for Laurence and Temeraire but, inevitably, for the British nation too.
There is less here of a single story, more of a sequence of sub stories, each leading to the next. The theme of Temeraire's disenchantment with society proceeds, with more examples of human-dragon relationships being seen, so we have now seen the European, Chinese and Turkish variants, as well as what life is like for wild dragons (nasty, brutish and short would appear the apposite comment). In many ways, this is a comment on the place of people within a real society - Laurence is a naval man who instinctively believes that the rigid structure of every-man-knows-his-place is better than the alternatives, but he is beginning to question his assumptions. However, Novik is too good to blindly put forward the 'modern US democracy is the best of all possible worlds' view that is all too often seen in alternate histories. And all too often posited in real life - see the shameful events consequent to applying that philosophy in Iraq.
I like this series, and it has yet to disappoint.