Throne of Jade: how to make me cry from the start

Book cover: Throne of Jade - Naomi NovikIt’s been some months since the decisive victory in the Channel, but Captain Laurence and our favourite dragon have a new problem: a Chinese prince, who is insisting the stolen dragon be returned to the Emperor; and an Admiralty who are minded to give him what he wants…

Throne of Jade starts with a bang – we join an obstreperous Will Laurence being carpeted at the Admiralty. It’s clear from the off that this is going to be a novel of clashing cultures and fractured hearts: the Chinese may have sent an egg to Napoleon, but they don’t recognise the right of the English to seize it as a prize of war. Or to keep the Celestial that hatched from it, much less put him in harness and risk him in war. In fact, they don’t really seem to recognise that anyone not Chinese might have rights at all.

They don’t even particularly care what Temeraire – or Lung Tien Xiang – thinks. He has been in low company and will soon appreciate that, once back in China surrounded by his peers. Apparently.

As for the British government, it becomes painfully clear the low regard the Aerial Corps is held. Dragons are considered little better than beasts or pets, no matter their physical might and strategic importance. It’s more important to appease an Empire half a world away – because if their response was to attack Russia, Britain would lose a key ally in the war against Napoleon. By the end of chapter 4, we have discovered exactly what the government is willing to turn a blind eye to, and it’s pretty incendiary stuff. Err, excusing the unintentional pun (and no, it’s not a spoiler).

I think perhaps you are forgetting that your first duty is to your country and your King; not to this dragon of yours #BarhamNO

It’s dirty politics in overheated rooms conducted by people that I would like to see Temeraire squash (and he’s quite willing to, as it turns out). We soon learn that it’s been weeks since Laurence and Temeraire have even been permitted to see one another – in an attempt to bully Temeraire into agreeing to go ‘home’, he has been isolated from captain and crew – and my heart was just breaking at the pain they were both going through.

So HUZZAH for Captain Roland coming to keep Laurence out of trouble (in skirts! Such noble sacrifice). I was entirely amused that her best efforts to cheer him up rapidly turned into taking him to bed (to let him talk in private, obviously) and outraging the chambermaid. Although that might have been the trousers.

But Napoleon is not sitting idle, and Roland is summoned back to Dover to duty. Laurence accompanying her to the covert to check in with the team who are caring for Temeraire – as he won’t disobey a direct order to stay away from the dragon, but he’ll sail pretty close to the wind – turns out to be a mixed blessing. Barham and Prince Yongxing have pushed Temeraire so far he uses his Divine Wind to flatten the clearing – and would likely have flattened them if Laurence had not intervened. Barham threatens a court martial. Temeraire simply picks Laurence up and flies away.

My heart bursts.

Then asks Laurence to never leave him again, and all Laurence can say is ‘my dear’ as his honour forbids him to make promises he can’t keep.


Dammit, I’m welling up again writing about it.

Well done Naomi Novik. I am totally emotionally engaged by these two; I am more invested in their relationship than any other relationship I have read about in years. Even Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen can’t wrench me from joy to despair to hilarity to tears with this sort of relentless agility. It’s exhausting, I tell you. Also wonderful.

Emotions have to wait, however, as the French are still on their way and they have a firebreather with them. Having just demonstrated that honestly, nobody can stop him doing precisely what he wants, Temeraire insists on joining the defence (leading to a hilarious scene where the crew are scrambling to get aloft only to realize that they don’t know where they’re going and have to ask Berkley and Maximus).

These aerial battles are monstrous. They’re exciting and I can’t wait to see one on a big screen (surely, surely there’s a plan for this?) but my imagination supplies the sickening dizziness and incapacitation I’d feel if I were actually up there if I pay too close attention to what’s going on. So err, there’s two fabulous battles this week.

Returning safely home, Temeraire, Maximus and Lily are all at the Dover covert when Barham arrives to clap Laurence in chains.


Shortly thereafter, the Chinese realize that their only hope of taking Lung Tien Xiang home is to take Laurence with him, and the crew find themselves on a dragon transport to China (neatly excusing Laurence from his appointment with that court martial. Phew). In another twist, Laurence manages to make a timely suggestion in the right ear and get his old Lieutenant Riley appointed to captain the transport. Hooray for familiar faces!

But it soon becomes evident that one challenge has been exchanged for another. The cultural – and linguistic – differences between the British crew and the Chinese embassy are so vast that even the Home Office’s young envoy, Hammond, looks overwhelmed. And that’s before someone casually mentions how the Chinese got to England in the first place.

It all looks very set to end in tears long before China, when the ship is attacked at night by the French. It’s unclear whether the French are targeting Temeraire or know that the Chinese are aboard – they may simply be after the enormous dragon transport – but once Temeraire sinks one of their ships, the gloves come off. This may be the most vicious battle we’ve seen, and it’s a very close call.

At the risk of being called the Spoiler Queen, there’s 7 more of these books to come and they weren’t written by George R R Martin, so I don’t think it’s too much to allow that our boys squeak through.

But Temeraire is badly injured, and it’s a long way to China. Will the Prince pitch a fit that the Celestial dragon took part in another battle? (probably) Will they continue on their course? (the title of the book suggests this is a given) Will the Muskedragons have to turn home, having rescued them from the hands of the French? (maybe they’ll at least be able to accompany them as far as Gibraltar?)

It’s one hell of a cliffhanger to end the week on, after a very intense read – all the emotions and all the battles. I’m travelling next weekend, so shall hopefully arrive in time to squeeze in the read between landing and a work do. Assuming I’m in any state to engage with people professionally by the time next week’s read is done with me!

Live reactions as we read are captured on Storify thanks as ever to @effingrainbow.

The #ThroneofJade live tweet-alongs continue on Sundays at 9pm BST