The first Temeraire book had one big question that was never answered. China had sent a dragon egg to Napoleon. The reason why highly isolationist China should do this was wondered at a couple times in the first novel, but no answer was forthcoming.

So, this second book in the series is aimed directly at that question, which had become even more befuddling as Temeraire’s true worth becomes apparent at the end of His Majesty’s Dragon. This central plot thread gets going immediately as a Chinese delegation arrives demanding Temeraire’s return. The British government, already with its hands full in Europe is not minded to outright refuse, even if all the primary characters are.

The plot structure suffers a bit as this central plot thread stretches out with no idea of how it could resolve for far too long. Much of the middle is more concerned about the process of getting halfway around the world in the early Nineteenth Century, which keeps the action going, but doesn’t do a lot for the central plot. And once the journey itself is largely over, the next stand-in taking look at a different culture, and how it treats dragons; a comparison that is deeply disconcerting to Laurence as he realizes how short Europe comes in this department. I would assume this will fuel at least some sub-plots in later books.

Reactions to this book will all hinge on how you do with a central plot that seems stuck in amber most of the time. The answer to that initial question, when it comes, makes sense, and makes for a good plot twist, but the ending itself is still abrupt and feels a little forced, though it does flow directly from what has been learned. Overall, it’s a good sequel novel that avoids trying to do the exact same thing twice in a row. This shuffles the Napoleonic Wars offstage; we hear about the Battle of Austerlitz, and that’s about it. I hope we get to see a bit more later on.