The second book in the delightful Temeraire –series. They are historical fantasy set in the Napoleonic Wars with dragons. The dragons are huge and capable of carrying whole crews of men.

In the previous book, Naval Captain Will Laurence acquired the dragon Temeraire and they formed a strong and lasting bond. However, now the Chinese have revealed that Temeraire is a Chinese dragon and they want him back – preferably without the low-born English Captain. Temeraire is a rare Celestial dragon and so, their handlers in China are royalty.

The English government wants to keep good relations with China and some go even so far that they want Laurence to lie to Temeraire so that the dragon would leave voluntarily. But Temeraire doesn’t want to be separated from Laurence and refuses to believe that Laurence would exchange him for another dragon. When the Admiral tries to force Laurence to give up Temeraire, the dragon takes Laurence and flies away. Against orders, they join the battle against the French.

After the battle, Laurence is almost court marshaled for his actions, or rather Temeraire’s actions. However, Temeraire’s insistence convinces the Chinese envoy, the Emperor’s brother Prince Yongxing, that the dragon won’t leave without Laurence. Therefore, both Laurence and the dragon are sent by sea to China. The Chinese delegation and the British crew are suspicious of each other so the long voyage isn’t going to be a comfortable one.

The long sea voyage aboard the warship Allegiance takes up the vast majority of the book. There are three distinct groups aboard the ship: the air crew, the Navy men, and the Chinese delegation. Even the two British groups aren’t too comfortable with each other.

There’s only one huge air battle in the book near the beginning. However, there are smaller skirmished throughout the book providing lots of action. Politics provides motivations to many characters but Laurence isn’t a politician and he isn’t comfortable dealing with politicians such as young Arthur Hammond who is their onboard diplomat. (Alas, I associate the name Hammond with the Stargate’s General, which is very much the wrong association here!)

However, I was more interested in the differences between the Chinese and British cultures. Most of the differences come clear in how differently they treat their dragons. The British Admirals seem to think of the dragons as troops or even just animals while the Chinese have integrated them to their culture more clearly. Different breeds are also treated differently because they are of different class.

Temeraire is also very curious about these differences. He and Laurence also talk a lot about culture in general: slavery and are the British dragons any different from slaves, why woman aren’t allowed to be soldiers while female dragons fight as well as the males etc. I happened to like these a lot but others might think that they just slow the book down.

The Chinese are said to be the best dragon handlers in the world. Still, the Prince manages to completely ignore Temeraire’s own wishes. Through out the whole voyage, the Prince tries to convince Temeraire, both subtly and finally not, that the dragon would be much happier in China with a royal handler. He continues this no matter how sternly Temeraire insists that he doesn’t want to leave England or Laurence. Then again, it’s a very human trait to try to “better” others’ lives without taking into account what these other people want themselves.

I did expect to see more about China but that’s, of course, not the book’s fault. The sea voyage was quite interesting and what little we saw about China was fascinating. I hope that at some point Novik might write a (short) story set in this China.

Overall: a very enjoyable continuation to the series.