Empire of Ivory starts with the end of the journey back to England, and Laurence is shocked that no one is there to meet him, they find that the entire population of the dragons of England is decimated by disease. So Temeraire and the feral dragons that sided in the escape are now being pressed into service so that they can protect the coastline of England from Napoleon, though he is mostly still focused upon the continent. We see yet another side to Temeraire as the story progresses, in normal conditions, dragons can live for a couple hundred years or so and so naturally he had never thought about the possibility that his friends, Maximus and Lily to name a pair, might die and be lost to him. this along with the patroling bring him down into depression but he keeps going, and he is eventually coaxed into helping commission England’s first pavilion for the sick dragons though this does not help bring him out of his depression entirely.
A greater help to that is the linking of liberties for dragons to abolitionist movement when Laurence’s father introduces the pair to William Wilberforce, a devout proponent to the abolitionist cause. In fact, Temeraire, helps to design one of the first social events to help strengthen the cause and when the society of England is brought to the area Temeraire is eventually tolerated, and things turn out wonderfully. Unfortunately, the two of them are removed from future events when Temeraire falls into the quarantined longwings with a French dragon and the two of them are instantly isolated, though now Laurence has been brought to his greatest depression the eventual death of his closest friend. Everyone is convinced that Temeraire has been infected and they strive to have him mate with another dragon to produce an egg while he is able to.
But after enough time had passed and Temeraire had shown no signs of the sickness, he is examined and pronounced to be unaffected by the virulent illness that has ravaged every other dragon exposed to it. Thinking back they remember Temeraire had a cold, though now they believe it this deadly disease, but recovered on the coast of Africa so Temeraire’s shipmates are loaded upon the dragon transport the Allegience, and they set off to heal not only the formation but the whole of the corps. While there many things about the unexplored interior of the continent, bot of the people and the once thought feral dragons. Certainties once held to so fiercely are bludgeoned out of their mind once encountered.
The choices that the crews of the formations must make are hard ones, but they have a set goal and are unwavering in their dedication to that goals completion. We are shown just how deeply the men and women are connected to their dragons, both in the search for the cure and in the wake of the disease. Those who have lost their once magnificent companions are mear shells of their once proud selves. Much like parents who lose a child, none would have ever thought it possible for the dragons to perish before them when their lifespans are so much more significant than theirs. This entry in the Temeraire series to me has been the most thought-provoking both in the main plot and equally as important its subplots and ties to the readers. As a father, I can see myself in the place of some of these captains who are in danger of losing or who have lost their dragons.
Empire of Ivory is a fantastic story that establishes new moral dilemmas for Laurence and Temeraire and entertains from beginning to end.