Throne of Jade

Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Del Rey
Released: (April 25, 2006)
ISBN-13: 978-0345481290
Reviews | Excerpt

When Britain intercepted a French ship and its precious cargo–an unhatched dragon’s egg–Capt. Will Laurence of HMS Reliant unexpectedly became master and commander of the noble dragon he named Temeraire. As new recruits in Britain’s Aerial Corps, man and dragon soon proved their mettle in daring combat against Bonaparte’s invading forces.

Now China has discovered that its rare gift, intended for Napoleon, has fallen into British hands–and an angry Chinese delegation vows to reclaim the remarkable beast. But Laurence refuses to cooperate. Facing the gallows for his defiance, Laurence has no choice but to accompany Temeraire back to the Far East–a long voyage fraught with peril, intrigue, and the untold terrors of the deep. Yet once the pair reaches the court of the Chinese emperor, even more shocking discoveries and darker dangers await.

“It’s tough to top the novelty of a new series, especially one that intermingles historical fiction and high fantasy. If reviewers aren’t as agog over this new installment, write it off to familiarity, not boredom. Like any good middle of a trilogy, relationships are deepened, new characters are introduced, and novel plot twists set up a run toward the finale, Black Powder War—which, thanks to an aggressive publishing schedule, has already come out in hardcover. Throne of Jade is a solid second entry in what is shaping up to be an intriguing series.” — Bookmarks Magazine

“Captain Laurence had commanded a ship in the Royal Navy (see His Majesty’s Dragon, 2006) but was relegated to the aviator corps after bonding with the hatchling from the dragon egg his ship found aboard a French prize his ship had seized. He and Temeraire, the hatchling, are a team now, and at the opening of Throne of Jade, he won’t accept that the admiralty wants to send Temeraire back to China and him, Laurence, to trick the dragon into going. But Temeraire, it turns out, is a Celestial, hence among the very finest of dragons, and the Chinese ambassador insists he be returned. Temeraire agrees to go only if Laurence does, too, and after an adventurous transit–transporting dragons by sea from England to China with eighteenth-century sailing technology is no picnic–the English party arrives to face the intrigues of the Chinese court. The court is an eye-opener for the aviators. Dragons aren’t treated as servants or beasts of burden, as they are in Europe, but as lords and princes. Temeraire, or Lung Tien Xiang, is an imperial prince, with kin in Peking. But Cain and Abel also exist among dragons, and a trail of intrigue begun in London excitingly climaxes at the imperial court. At the end of Throne of Jade, the British party, including Temeraire, is free to return to England.” — Booklist | Starred Review

Note: The following Chapter Four scene takes place at sea during the night, aboard the H.M.S Allegiance, a dragon transport (an extremely large ship built to carry dragons for long sea-journeys).

Laurence had several pleasant small round windows, not drafty, and near the ship’s galley as he was, the cabin was still warm despite the wind; one of the runners had lit the hanging lantern, and Gibbon’s book was lying still open on the lockers. He slept almost at once, despite the pain; the easy sway of his hanging cot was more familiar than any bed, and the low susurration of the water along the sides of the ship a wordless and constant reassurance.

He came awake all at once, breath jolted out of his body before his eyes even quite opened: noise more felt than heard. The deck abruptly slanted, and he flung out a hand to keep from striking the ceiling; a rat went sliding across the floor and fetched up against the fore lockers before scuttling into the dark again, indignant.

The ship righted almost at once: there was no unusual wind, no heavy swell; at once he understood that Temeraire had taken flight. Laurence flung on his boat-cloak and rushed out in nightshirt and bare feet; the drummer was beating to quarters, the crisp flying staccato echoing off the wooden walls, and even as Laurence staggered out of his room the carpenter and his mates were rushing past him to clear away the bulkheads. Another crash came: bombs, he now recognized, and then Granby was suddenly at his side, a little less disordered since he had been sleeping in breeches. Laurence accepted his arm without hesitation and with his help managed to push through the crowd and get back up to the dragondeck through the confusion. Sailors were running with frantic haste to the pumps, flinging buckets out over the sides for water to slop onto the decks and wet down the sails. A bloom of orange-yellow was trying to grow on the edge of the furled mizzen topsail; one of the midshipmen, a spotty boy of thirteen Laurence had seen skylarking that morning flung himself gallantly out onto the yard with his shirt in his hand, dripping, and smothered it out.

There was no other light, nothing to show what might be going on aloft, and too much shouting and noise to hear anything of the battle above at all: Temeraire might have been roaring at full voice for all they would have known of it. “We must get a flare up, at once,” Laurence said, taking his boots from Roland; she had come running with them, and Morgan with his breeches.

“Calloway, go and fetch a box of flares, and the flash-powder,” Granby called. “It must be a Fleur-de-Nuit; no other breed could see without at least moonlight. If only they would stop that noise,” he added, squinting uselessly up.

The loud crack warned them; Laurence fell as Granby tried to pull him down to safety, but only a handful of splinters came flying; screams rose from below: the bomb had gone through a weak place in the wood and down into the galley. Hot steam came up through the vent, and the smell of salt pork, steeping already for the next day’s dinner: tomorrow was Thursday, Laurence remembered, ship’s routine so deeply engrained that the one thought followed instantly on the other in his mind.

“We must get you below,” Granby said, taking his arm again, calling, “Martin!”

Laurence gave him an astonished, appalled look; Granby did not even notice, and Martin, taking his left arm, seemed to think nothing more natural. “I am not leaving the deck,” Laurence said sharply.

The gunner Calloway came panting with the box; in a moment, the whistle of the first rising flare cut through the low voices, and the yellow-white flash lit the sky. A dragon bellowed: not Temeraire’s voice, too low, and in the too-short moment while the light lingered, Laurence caught sight of Temeraire hovering protectively over the ship. The Fleur-de-Nuit had evaded him in the dark and was a little way off, twisting its head away from the light.

Temeraire roared at once and darted for the French dragon, but the flare died out and fell, left all again black as pitch. “Another, another; damn you,” Laurence shouted to Calloway, who was still staring aloft just as they all were. “He must have light; keep them going aloft.”

More of the crewmen rushed to help him, too many: three more flares went up at once, and Granby sprang to keep them from any further waste. Shortly they had the time marked: one flare followed after another in steady progression, a fresh burst of light just as the previous one failed. Smoke curled around Temeraire, trailed from his wings in the thin yellow light as he closed with the Fleur-de-Nuit, roaring; the French dragon dived to avoid him, and bombs scattered into the water harmlessly, the sound of the splashes traveling over the water.

“How many flares have we left?” Laurence asked Granby, low.

“Four dozen or so, no more,” Granby said, grimly: they were going very fast. “And that is already with what the Allegiance was carrying besides our own; their gunner brought us all they had.”

Calloway slowed the rate of firing to stretch the dwindling supply longer, so that the dark returned full-force between bursts of light. Their eyes were all stinging with smoke and the strain of trying to see in the thin, always-fading light of the flares; Laurence could only imagine how Temeraire was managing, alone, half-blind, against an opponent fully manned and prepared for battle.

“Sir, Captain,” Roland cried, waving at him from the starboard rail; Martin helped Laurence over, but before they had reached her, one of the last handful of flares went off, and for a moment the ocean behind the Allegiance was illuminated clearly: two French heavy frigates coming on behind them, with the wind in their favor, and a dozen boats in the water crammed with men sweeping towards their either side.

The lookout above had seen also; “Sail ho; boarders,” he bellowed out, and all was suddenly confusion once more: sailors running across the deck to stretch the boarding-netting, and Riley at the great double wheel with his coxswain and two of the strongest seamen; they were putting the Allegiance about with desperate haste, trying to bring her broadside to bear. There was no sense in trying to outrun the French ships; in this wind the frigates could make a good ten knots at least, and the Allegiance would never escape them.

Ringing along the galley chimney, words and the pounding of many feet echoed up hollowly from the gundecks: Riley’s midshipmen and lieutenants were already hurrying men into place at the guns, their voices high and anxious as they repeated instructions, over and over, trying to drum what ought to have occupied the practice of months into the heads of men half-asleep and confused.

“Calloway, save the flares,” Laurence said, hating to give the order: the darkness would leave Temeraire vulnerable to the Fleur-de-Nuit. But with so few left, they had to be conserved, until there was some better hope of being able to do real damage to the French dragon.

“Stand by to repel boarders,” the bo’sun bellowed; the Allegiance was finally coming up through the wind, and there was a moment of silence: out in the darkness, the oars kept splashing, a steady count in French drifting faintly towards them over the water, and then Riley called, “Fire as she bears.”

The guns below roared, red fire and smoke spitting: impossible to tell what damage had been done, except by the mingled sounds of screaming and splintering wood to let them know at least some of the shot had gone home. On went the guns, a rolling broadside as the Allegiance made her ponderous turn; but after they had spoken once, the inexperience of the crew began to tell.

At last the first gun spoke again, four minutes at least between shots; the second gun did not fire at all, nor the third; the fourth and fifth went together, with some more audible damage, but the sixth ball could be heard splashing into clear water; also the seventh, and then Purbeck called, “‘Vast firing.” The Allegiance had carried too far; now she could not fire again until she made her turn once more; and all the while the boarding party would be approaching, the rowers only encouraged to greater speed.

The guns died away; the clouds of thick grey smoke drifted over the water. The ship was again in darkness, but for the small, swaying pools of light cast off by the lanterns on deck. “We must get you aboard Temeraire,” Granby said. “We are not too far from shore yet for him to make the flight, and in any case there may be ships closer by: the transport from Halifax may be in these waters by now.”

“I am not going to run away and hand a hundred-gun transport over to the French,” Laurence said, very savagely.

“I am sure we can hold out, and in any case there is every likelihood of recapturing her before they can bring her into port, if you can warn the fleet,” Granby argued; no navy officer would have persisted so against his commander, but aviator discipline was far more loose, and he would not be denied; it was indeed his duty as first lieutenant to see to the captain’s safety.

“They could easily take her to the West Indies or a port in Spain, far from the blockades, and man her from there; we cannot lose her,” Laurence said.

“It would still be best to have you aboard, where they cannot lay hands on you unless we are forced to surrender,” Granby said. “We must find some way to get Temeraire clear.”