Novik, Naomi. His majesty's dragon. New York: Del Rey, 2006. 353pp.
His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik is the first book of a new series, one of the real buzz books of the last several months, with great reviews and lots of hype. The setting for the series is the Napoleonic wars, but with a difference. There are dragons. Big ones. And both sides use them as sort of a cross between fighter planes and sailing ships, with an odd array of battle tactics to boot.
This novel is the story of Will Laurence, British ship captain, who captures a dragon egg from a French sailing vessel. The egg hatches before they can get to shore and give it to the authorities and the dragon latches on to Will as his combination mommy and trainer. Kinda weird, but in a good way. Dragons in this universe are highly intelligent and articulate. This novel mostly sets up the rest of the series, with a lot of time spent on the care and training of the dragon, Temeraire, paying particular attention to the close relationship between Temeraire and Will.
There are a few good battle scenes at the end, a little unrealistic in their construction. For example, they often use their dragons (which have crews of a dozen or more "sailors" strapped to their complex riggings) to come up beside and actually attempt to board other dragons. Just try to imagine it and you'll see how unlikely it seems -- couldn't the dragons just fly away when the other one got close?
Anyways, enough quibbling. This is a good, solid first novel. I look forward to the sequels. The one worrying thing is that Novik has apparently signed up for at least 5 more books and I often get worried about quality in long series.