While the novels are all divided into three parts, in some the breaking points between the parts are much more obvious than others – for example, His Majesty’s Dragon basically divided as the initial time between Laurence and Temeraire, their military training, and their time on active combat duty. For others, it was less clear and the stories bled over between parts a lot. This novel almost feels like three novellas united in one book, but in a good way.
After the mostly successful mission to Portugal, Laurence is not sure about how his solution will be received and decides to take advantage of the open invitation to visit his adopted father, the Chinese Emperor, which Gung So presented to him in the previous novel. Hammond was also happy to take advantage of this since he doubted that the government would otherwise allow him to return to his previous position. As this novel begins, Laurence is missing, swept overboard during a storm near Japan. Japan is still closed to foreigners at this point in history – normally this wouldn’t stop Temeraire from frantically searching for Laurence but since Iskierka is about to lay their egg, he feels his parental responsibilities pulling on him to guard the egg. Laurence has survived and been swept ashore but is a foreigner where he is forbidden, and has lost a good chunk of memory – eight years to be exact. When asked, he thinks himself a Navy captain of the ship Reliant. Nagasaki is the only port open to foreigners so the remainder of the crew head there while Laurence also aims for Nagasaki to reunite with his country men. In addition to getting glimpses of Japanese dragon culture, Temeraire also meets a North American dragon who owns and operates his own ship, giving Temeraire more ideas to introduce to European dragons about life, commerce and property rights.
Part 2 of the novel takes place in China with a newly reunited Laurence and Temeraire, though the memory gap still remains and shows Laurence struggling to reconcile who he thinks he is with his actions over the last eight years while Temeraire tries to give Laurence the proper space to get back to their close relationship. They also get involved in preventing a plot against the throne, and a complicated political situation involving opium smuggling before receiving orders to head to Russia in an attempt to stop Napoleon on his march to conquer the rest of Europe.
In the final part of the novel, Laurence and Temeraire support the Russians as they retreat eastward from Napoleon’s armies while also taking some strategic stands – Novik already alluded in the first novel that dragon conditions in Russia are horrible, and this novel certainly proves that. I am not sure how much historical research Novik did for all of these novels, but given my basic broad knowledge of all the countries these novels touch, I certainly think her portrayals and ideas are reasonable (even if as someone of German descent, I do occasionally get tired of the “Germans/Prussians are orderly and do things by the book” portrayal/stereotypes so people from these other countries may have similar, “yes, but that is a bit general” responses to her characterizations). I also feel like this novel finally forces Temeraire to mature and grow up a bit emotionally between his egg, and his need to tread lightly around Laurence due to the memory issues, which I appreciated given some of my previous quibbles with the series.
From a geography perspective, I think it is funny that Laurence and Temeraire have almost circumnavigated the globe with all their travels, except that their routes always take them back across the Pacific so they are just missing a trip across the Atlantic to truly be able to make that claim.