Throne of Jade
by Naomi Novik
Recommended Ages: 13+
In the current book, Capt. Will Laurence of H.M. Aerial Corps and his remarkable companion, the dragon Temeraire, have just saved the United Kingdom from invasion by Napoleon's forces when they are called on the carpet by an ungrateful Admiralty, who want to break up their partnership and give Temeraire back to the Chinese. A delegation from that country, including the Emperor's brother, reveals that Temeraire belongs to a rare, sacred breed that must never be harnessed or put to hazardous service – a Celestial, the highest order of dragons, bred as companions to emperors and their families. Because Temeraire refuses to give up Laurence, and Laurence refuses to lie to the dragon and say he wants him to, the only way out of the diplomatic impasse is to ship dragon, man and all to China and see what the Emperor has to say about it.
Their journey around the Horn of Africa is fraught with challenges, including clashes of culture with the Chinese passengers, a nighttime attack by enemy forces, a couple attempts on Laurence's life and Temeraire's dawning realization that British dragons live in conditions just this side of slavery. This last concern weighs most heavily on Laurence after they arrive in Peking and Temeraire meets others of his kind. They witness a society where humans and dragons live among each other as equals, where dragons can move about freely and aspire to a variety of careers, where they read and write, earn and spend money. To be sure, he meets a villainous Celestial, but he also bonds with his mother and enjoys a little romance with a pretty Imperial. And the Prince presents him with a little boy meant to be a more suitable companion than Laurence.
Worrying about whether he will lose Temeraire is trouble enough, but Laurence hasn't left behind the threat of assassination as a guest of the Chinese. The book balances desperate battles with a scenic tableau that seamlessly blends historic culture and manners with fantasy world-building. It's a thrilling adventure whose style and literary merit approach that of the authors mentioned above. Beneath all, it is charged with a strange kind of love that perhaps doesn't resemble any relationship we know of, but that nevertheless, touches the reader's heart.