Laurence’s overarching character traits throughout the series have been his sense of duty, honor and morality (sometimes a bit stuffy and old-fashioned). As a result, it was shocking but not out of character for him to make the decision he did in Empire of Ivory, and commit treason when the British government chose a course that conflicted with Laurence’s own sense of right and wrong. Having seen the deadly effects of the dragon virus on the English beasts, and no longer considering dragons merely beasts such as cows or horses, but intelligent and developed beings, Laurence couldn’t stand by as the English sent an imprisoned, infected French dragon back to France where the disease would have spread across the world given France’s relations and interactions across the globe. While many (but not all) aviators understood his decision to share the cure with France, the Admiralty certainly didn’t and sentenced Laurence as a traitor. The only reason he is still alive is that he is the captain of Temeraire, one of the most powerful dragons in Britain (even if he has revolutionary ideas), and Laurence is the only way to control Temeraire and assure his acquiescence.
While Laurence is imprisoned aboard a ship off the coast, Temeraire is getting used to the breeding grounds, the hierarchy there, and the fact that no one there is used to his ideas or realizes what his divine wind does. As a result, he finds himself challenged by a large heavy weight for his cave, which leads him to get more involved in the breeding grounds community and politics. As he gets more involved, he is also able to ask Moncy, one of the feral courier sized breeds, to ask around about Laurence when he flies around and interacts with other dragons. Unfortunately, Moncy finds out which ship Laurence was being held on right after it is sunk during Napoleon’s invasion of England, and incorrectly reports that Laurence is dead when he in fact survived the wreckage.
With England under attack, the British government needs all hands on deck, which means they will temporarily overlook Laurence’s treason if it means getting a heavy weight like Temeraire back into formation. Tharkay, first introduced in Black Powder War, finds Laurence, escorts him back to the covert, where Laurence receives his orders to head to the breeding grounds for Temeraire, only to find the breeding grounds abandoned. Thinking Laurence dead, Temeraire is of course devastated but he also cannot allow Napoleon or Lien to win, and convinces the breeding ground dragons, a mix of ferals, dragons that refused their captains and retired former Corps members, that they may not be treated with equal rights in their homeland but they must defend it. Certainly, if it helps them claim a few prizes down the road, better food or even improved rights, that would not be a bad side benefit, either.
Hollis and Elsie make a short reappearance, which was a nice throwback to a character from the first book, and assist Laurence with his attempt to track Temeraire as Temeraire leads some combat successes against the French. As the French continue their invasion and occupation of England, the British military leaders realize that if they want to have even the slightest chance of pushing back the invaders, they may have to start looking at dragons differently and even include them in planning. The Aerial Corps dragons also must adjust to the newcomers that Temeraire has brought to their side.
As usual, the novel’s strength is in the growing awareness of the dragons of how their lives could be different, the interactions between them, and the odd disconnects they occasionally have with humans. Despite being very intelligent, certain concepts just don’t carry the same meaning to them so that humans sometimes have to put things in a very different perspective or light to get their agreement on a subject.
Having completed the series, I would say the first five novels of the series are the more Euro/English focused set while book 6 feels like a filler/transition novel between a five book series and a trilogy. Certainly, book 5 ties up in a way where one could finish the series here, or at least it would be a good breaking point to do some other reading. Of the remaining novels, the next one is the toughest to get through, but fortunately the novels pick back up after that.