I read this book about 6-Jun-2006. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 2006. This note was last modified Tuesday, 06-May-2014 13:15:07 PDT.
Laurence and Temeraire are dispatched to China with a Chinese delegation that came to reclaim their dragon. People eventually figure out that the egg was destined for Napolean, and are very worried that the Chinese will support him in other ways. Also they get involved in internal Chinese political struggle (at least 4 tries are made at killing Laurence).
The Chinese have lived with dragons for far longer than others (the Romans started dragon-keeping in England). Peking is built with wide enough streets so dragons can mingle with people, and many dragons can read and write, haggle with shopkeepers, and live fairly independent lives. They can also be poor, it develops, though only one example is shown.
They're sent over on a "transport", meaning a dragon transport. A huge ship, with an iron keel and a large dragon deck, where dragons can land and take off (and big enough for several to sit out; they can't go inside the ship, it's too small). Because of its size, this "transport" also has 150 guns. Doesn't sail very fast, though. When they had to find a captain for it, it looked like they weren't desirable posts, despite the size and number of guns.
And I don't actually believe in the flight deck digging into big waves that way without ripping the ship to pieces. Water is dense.
We get some touring in China (this alternate China), and meet some Chineese Imperial and Celestial dragons as well as their more prosaic breeds. There's some question of whether Laurence will be killed, or otherwise separated from Temeraire; several people try to convince Laurence to abandon Temeraire, too (starting back in England). Their relationship weathers this (neither does anything spectacularly stupid).
Dragons write poetry, too.
It takes them a remarkably long time to get to China, and it seems rather slow a lot of that time. When they get there it's still slow, and we have little insight into what's going on (the Chinese politics).
In the end, the problem of Temeraire being attached to a non-Chinese (and not of Imperial family) person is solved by having the Emeror adopt Laurence.
The third book, Black Powder War, is now out, and I hear she has just contracted for three more. I wonder if it might have been better for her to write something else.