The fourth book in the Temeraire –series. It starts immediately after the previous book, Black Powder War.

Captain Will Laurence, his dragon Temeraire, and the dragon’s crew have been away from England for a year. Now, they are finally coming back home after their adventures in China. Laurence is expecting rest and seeing his friends in the Aerial Corps again. Temeraire is full of notions of how he’s going to further the lives and fortunes of dragons in England. However, they are attacked by French dragons and see no sign of the English dragons who should have been patrolling.

When they finally return to England, they hear the dreadful news: the dragons have contracted a disease which is likely to kill them in time. Currently, most of them are too weak to patrol and the Corps is desperately trying to keep the knowledge from the French who are likely to invade the moment they hear about it. The doctors haven’t found a cure and the best they can do is to quarantine the sick dragons.

However, soon the doctors notice that Temeraire seems to be immune to the disease. It might be something he encountered in Africa on his way to China. So, a ship is made ready, and Temeraire and a number of dragons are sent hastily to Africa in the meager hope that they might find a cure.

I have to admit that I liked this one best of the series so far. I loved the return of old friends from the first book and the twist that sent them all together to a new continent. Temeraire and Laurence are as entertaining as ever and there’s social commentary on slavery, sexism, and racism. The sexism is very obvious because one of the female dragon captains has been promoted to an admiral and the old boys’ club don’t know how to deal with that. However, I was surprised to notice that when Temeraire talks about having dragons sit in Parliament, nobody has pointed out to him that the English exclude half of their own people from the decision making, and so are unlikely to let non-humans in.

The African adventures center at first around searching for the medicine but escalate later when the team finds a culture they haven’t known about before. I’m not entirely convinced that the culture in question could have stayed hidden so long, but I’m willing to suspend my disbelief this time.

There’s a great tension between Laurence and the ship’s captain Riley over slavery. Laurence is against it (as is his father) and Riley’s family owns a plantation. The other characters are surprisingly non-vocal about it, though. Except for Temeraire who is also against slavery.

There’ a great twist near the end and a cliffhanger ending. So, I ended up downloading the next book almost immediately. Ah, moral dilemmas!