||The author shows us another different
side to dragons in this novel, as Temeraire leaves China and travels
across Asia to Turkey, then to Persia, where dragons are property as
much as in England. But it is Napoleon who shows Temeraire the path
to his true calling- as the dragon who might bring an end to slavery in
England, by demonstrating how humans can overcome their fear. First, he
needs to get to Turkey and its political betrayals, and the Prussian war
with the French. I realize
that Asia is a big place, but I found there was a little too much
dullness in the travel between locations.
I still like these novels, even if the
main character is a stiff Englishman who has a sense of honor that might
get him killed. At one point, he is unnoticed on a hill, hiding from a
French soldier whom he slowly realizes is Napoleon, and he refuses to
even attempt to commit murder, even though he knows the French general
plans to kill them all, if he can.
Aside from that, I like Lawrence, and
the way his sense of honor pervades his company of men. He is strict,
but he follows his own rules, too, just like he expects the men to do, and
he passes this sense of justice on to his dragon.
This, and the visit to China, make
Temeraire anxious to return to England to start talking about dragons'
rights with his friends. It's a long journey, and Temeraire gets to see
different reactions from different regions. The overland trip, as
opposed to the one made by sea in the last book, is prompted by a fire
on the ship they were to use to get back to England.
They plan to wait out the repairs, but
a note comes to Lawrence that he is supposed to pick up two dragon eggs
from the royal palace in Turkey, and that prompts a voyage over the
great desert and the mountains. The trip would have been quite boring if
not for the injection of potential deception by their guide, a man who
is part Asian, part other (we never quite get his full pedigree, except
that he doesn't fit in the white man's world, nor the Chinese world). He
is used to doing things his own way, and so he slips away sometimes,
where Lawrence thinks he is betraying them. Once, in the desert, he
disappears and they are set upon by bandits. But Tharkay always has a good
story, actually, his story is just good enough to keep him from getting
in trouble. Even by the end of the book, where he has proven himself
faithful, we are never sure if he was simply taking advantage of the
situations, or genuinely trying to help them. The point is, Tharkay doesn't
do things the "proper English" way, and Lawrence, who is a military
officer, deplores his casual behavior, but also can't really do without
him, as he needs a proper guide to get to Istanbul.
Along the way, they encounter feral
dragons, and it is quite interesting and funny to see Temeraire interact
with them, assuming they have some sort of manners, and finding out that
they don't! He learns their language quickly enough, which strengthens
his case that dragons should be able to manage their own affairs, rather
than being simply beasts for humans to ride to war.
I found it a little strange (and had
trouble at first) that Lien, the white Celestial dragon that Temeraire
bested in Throne of Jade, would cross the mountains with a Frenchman;
revenge hardly seems her style from what we know of her (more her former
master's, but I guess that rubs of on her the way Lawrence's sense of
duty and justice rubs off on Temeraire). Also, she would
have had to leave a little earlier than Temeraire, and I wonder that she
didn't need the supplies that he did while crossing the desert, or at
least that they didn't hear of the requisition when they were searching
for supplies themselves.
Istanbul, the ferals are chased away, but Lawrence and Temeraire and his
group are waylaid, not really permitted to do anything as they wait to
visit the Sultan, a task that takes forever. For the Sultan is now under
the sway of Lien, who apparently knows of the English purchase of the
dragon eggs, and had taken the English money and reneged on the deal,
probably killing the English ambassador in the process.
By the end, after a long wait, Lawrence
learns the truth, and stages a raid into the Sultan's wives' quarters to
seize the English eggs (losing one in the process), as they escape to
Prussia. Meanwhile, it seems that Lien is just waiting to be a foil for
Temeraire, because at that point, she too abandons the Sultan and makes
her way to the French army, where she becomes a strategist to Napoleon
Despite their errand to bring the egg
back to England, Lawrence and Temeraire are brought into the Prussian
army, where they watch the inept handling of the war against the French,
losing town after town as they consistently underestimate Napoleon's
infantry and dragon wings.
They finally make their way to a small
holdout on the edge of the sea, where the British navy is waiting, but
cannot stage a rescue due to the large number of French troops and
dragons in between. All the plans they make are nothing compared to the
strategies of Lien, who sets up an effective siege. Yet Tharkay returns with
the ferals, and together, they ferry all the troops and families out of
the Prussian fort and toward the waiting navy ships, all under the cover
of darkness and a drugged French lookout dragon.
The one dragon egg that they rescued
turned out to be a fire-breathing dragon, of which England has none, and
she is a very feisty beast! It was quite funny to watch them deal with
her as she wanted to go to war before she could even fly.
The last section was actually the most
exciting, but I still enjoyed most of what was told, in the different
parts of the adventure. The bulk of the story, I think, was to show
Temeraire the different ways that dragons are treated in different parts
of the world. His mission, ever since touring China, is to bring the
idea of free life for dragons back to England, and he wastes no time
telling any dragon he meets, whether they are the ferals, the Turkish
dragons or the Prussian ones, about what they could have. Usually, the
dragons are curious, but most of the time their supervisors come and ask
Lawrence to have him stop talking to the other dragons!
It is a real wake-up call to Temeraire
to learn that dragon rights must wait until after the war, because
people have other things on their minds, and are more likely to dismiss
dragons as sentient beings over their concerns about being invaded by
Napoleon, for example. But as Lawrence well knows, that would really
just be an excuse, as the English people are afraid of dragons. While
there are mean humans (like Napoleon), a single evil dragon could cause
so much harm in such a short time, that humans have every right to fear
them. However, to hold them in thrall because of that is unjust,
especially if they handled their own justice and decided their own
I do wonder, though, if they would all
be as naive as Temeraire. I found his questions to Lawrence amusing, as
he sought to figure out the rules of human fairness- of course there are
no rules that even the most decent human wouldn't break. One such
example is when Temeraire compares the ferals' stealing of the Sultan's
cows with Lawrence's stealing of the Sultan's dragon eggs. The fact that
the Sultan stole England's gold is beside the point. Lawrence has always
taught his dragon to go through the proper channels, and yet here he is,
taking what is owed his government when he doesn't like what the proper
channels have to say -even if they are corrupt.
Napoleon himself gave Temeraire his
greatest weapon to argue for free dragons, however, when he put
hundreds, even thousands of his troops on dragonback to transport them.
While humans naturally fear dragons, the people in China and now France
are able to quell that fear and turn it into respect.
So the adventure was a little slow, but
still gave us plenty to think about. There are still unanswered
questions, such as why other dragons couldn't go get the Turkish eggs,
why the British navy couldn't send the twenty dragons promised to the
Prussians, which might have led directly to their defeat (never mind the
unsound tactics). The next adventure beckons, especially as Britain
seems to be the only nation left in Europe to withstand Napoleon. I look
forward to reading about it.