Lee witnesses the slaughter of his entire family of dragonlords when Atraeus, later known as the First Protector, stages a coup. Atraeus orders a guard to take the King's youngest son out of the room, after witnessing his father's death.
Lee remembers Atraeus as being merciful and saving his life, but early on (as an adult and after reading how the First Protector treats his people, his actions speak to what really happened, long before the big reveal) you suspect that's not how it went down.
The guard takes the boy to an orphanage, where his true identity is somewhat obscured by a change in his first name and losing his last, but his fellow orphans know he's royalty, just from how he holds himself and behaves. Over the years, he's able to hide his origins better and better, and his only friend at the orphanage, Annie, becomes the keeper of his secret.
Then both of them are presented to the budding new regime's dragon eggs and chosen by hatchlings, and Lee becomes a living symbol of the old regime born anew, rising from the ashes -- unless he can complete a task so heinous, so horrific, by virtue of its atrociousness it proves his loyalty to Atraeus.
Throughout this, Annie watches and holds his secret, until it can be held no longer and later, she steps up to save Lee, once again, in a brilliant political move.
I'm going to go out on a limb here, but after reading this tale, and the more I thought about it, the more I rather strongly feel it resembles certain events / myths of the Russian Revolution of 1917, which saw the fall of Tsar Nicholas II and slaughter of his entire family.
For decades after, there were rumors, myths almost, of his youngest daughter, Anastasia, having survived the slaughter. She didn't, of course, but for years "reports," pure fanciful conjecture, of her possible survival would surface periodically in the West. Although Lee is a teen boy, his story rather closely resembles that of Anastasia's, a sort of "what if..." fantasy -- with cool dragons, of course.
Atraeus, in both his brutal actions and political "teachings" and ideology as laid out in the book, also reminded me rather strongly, not of Lenin, but of Stalin and his iron-fisted rule over the U.S.S.R. until his death in 1953.
Then again, perhaps I just have Russian history on the brain? Or maybe Temeraire trained me to look for more real-life politics than is actually in the story?
It was a good read, and would make a great gift for the political intrigue-loving, much older teen in your life!