As one of my reviewer friends pointed out just last week, this book takes a long time to get somewhere, and then almost no time there. That bothers her a lot more than it bothers me, but I do agree that perhaps too much time is taken on the voyage, and not enough on the meat of the book. (Particularly when that means all of China gets stuffed into the last 50 or so pages, after hundreds of pages of sea voyages.) Still, I like what Novik's trying to do here with dragons, and the emphasis on the voyage seems to be a part with these books hearkening more to the tradition of Patrick O'Brien than Anne McCaffrey.
In this second Napoleonic-Wars-but-with-dragons book, members of the Chinese royal family have come huffily to England, demanding back the dragon they sent to Napoleon himself, but which was captured in a sea battle and chose the naval captain Lawrence as his companion. Temeraire, the dragon, will have nothing to do with it. The British government tries to lean on Lawrence to lie to Temeraire and tell him that Lawrence doesn't want to be his companion anymore, but Lawrence, of course, refuses.
So they bundle them all of on a ship to China, obviously hoping for some nefarious parting of the two. Most of the book is the journey to China, and that is a pacing problem. The stuff on ship is interesting, but it takes up so much of the book with not really very much happening. I think there could have been much better ways to show Temeraire becoming disenchanted with the position of dragons in England.
That is the most interesting part of the book, and unfortunately, most of it gets shoe-horned into the time in China. It's a pity. But when they get to China, they find a society that is much more adapted to dragons, provides them a wage, and the cities have wide enough boulevards that dragons can freely mingle with humans. So Temeraire is right to be a little annoyed about his own position and the position of his compatriots.
On the other hand, Lawrence decides not to tell Temeraire about the signs that not everything is peachy keen, that it's great if you're part of the royal family, but other dragons are not treated so well. Bafflingly, he decides that it would be churlish to tell Temeraire "well, yes, you're treated very well here, but some dragons starve to death in the streets." That might not be a dealbreaker, but it would add some much needed perspective, and avoid this whole "China is the dragon's paradise" thing, when it's fairly clear that China is awesome if you're part of the royal family, but not if you're a peasant, which could pretty much be said about everywhere, ever.
I do like the idea of Temeraire as a social crusader, though. We'll see what happens when he gets back to England.
As for the book, the pacing was not great, but I still like these characters. And conceptualizing them as naval books as I do, the long sea voyage was not the problem for me that it has been for others. Still, I think there are ways to more elegantly handle this plot.