Monday, September 9, 2013

THRONE OF JADE


Review of THRONE OF JADE by NAOMI NOVIK
(second in the TEMERAIRE series)

It’s been a long time since I read the first book in this series, over a year I dare say. Nevertheless, it took me no effort and few pages to reinvest in this story and these characters.

I do admit to some difficulty keeping straight all the different characters - and especially their ranks - but that’s standard for this series rather than a symptom of how long I waited between books. I often think of character importance in tiers, because main characters and secondary characters still doesn’t seem complex enough to capture all the shades of grey in between. Using my tier system, all of the first tier (main) characters in THRONE OF JADE always remain clear and distinct in my mind. Most of the second tier, too - characters who certainly aren’t the lead of this story but play major roles and have plenty of “on page” time. It’s getting into third tier and beyond when I can’t keep track of all the various names coming and going throughout this story. Bottom line, though: the cast list might be too much to memorize, but characters stand out as and when necessary.

The story can feel somewhat slow. It’s all very atmospheric, delving into the nuts and bolts of both the fantasy world and the historical time period, with plenty of detail on setting (primarily maritime and then China in THRONE OF JADE) thrown in. Novik’s approach will definitely appeal to certain tastes more than others, but she’s undoubtedly given these books a distinct voice.

I did have two minor befuddlements with the pace. First, the story opens with a dramatic setup: China attempting to reclaim the dragon Temeraire from his human partner, the Englishman William Laurence. I felt every bit of their indignation and anxiety and couldn’t wait to see how this clash develops. However, I expected that would be the first conflict of many and it’s actually the entire plot of THRONE OF JADE. Second, once the book hits the climax the leisurely pace jolts into a sprint and then wraps up abruptly. What makes the book feel weighted oddly is how these last few chapters feel overstuffed with developments, twists, and important information compared to the rest of the novel.

As with HIS MAJESTY’S DRAGON, I still consider this series’ biggest strength the incredibly likable main characters. THRONE OF JADE then layers on a thought-provoking twist with the politics. There’s some moral ambiguity here, but most readers - myself included - will instinctually side with Temeraire and Lawrence. As far as I’m concerned, every other element about this series orbits around the focal point of their superbly imagined relationship.

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