It's the time of the Napoleonic wars and Captain William Laurence is in command of the British vessel, HMS Reliant. A French frigate is sighted off Madeira and battle commences. The Reliant is successful and takes the French ship, but something is not right. The crew are clearly under-fed and weary and in the hold of the vessel Laurence finds the answer. They are carrying a precious dragon egg and it is close to hatching.
Making swift calculations Laurence realises that they have no chance of reaching shore before the egg hatches. Someone aboard will have to harness the young dragon - thus committing himself to a lifetime of being an aviator. It will mean the end of life as that person knows it because from there on he will have to devote himself to his dragon completely. Lots are drawn and a young officer chosen. He is reluctant but willing, but in the event, when the egg hatches, it is Laurence himself that the dragon bonds with. Laurence's life as a naval officer is over.
Or is it? On reaching shore, the head of the aviators sends someone 'more appropriate' to relieve Laurence of the dragon. Laurence, already very attached, is upset but all is well when the dragon, now named 'Temeraire', refuses the change of partner.
Back in England and after explaining the situation to his horrified parents and fiance, Laurence begins his training in Scotland. He is not welcome in the dragon covert. A 'clodpole' navy man amongst young men trained from childhood to their calling - he is a misfit. Only the other misfits want to know him and his life would be a lonely one if it weren't for Temeraire: the two are now inseparable.
Laurence's task now is prove himself. He has to prove worthy of the very special dragon that Temeraire turns out to be... but he also has to prove to the doubters that he can lead in battle and help win the war.
Well, I was told I would probably love this and of course I did. It was a no brainer really - dragons in the Regency period, what's not to like? Naomi Novik has written a delightful book which focusses, first and foremost, on the relationship between Captain Laurence and Temeraire. I was slightly afraid that the focus might be on battles and tactics and there was some of that, but not enough to put me off.
The relationships Laurence forges at the covert are central to the book as well. There are surprises and tensions and a very steep learning curve for both Laurence and his dragon, because Temeraire is also very new at all of this. Laurence makes mistakes, tries to right wrongs and it's all great fun to read about. The historical detail is not at all dry and dusty but is incorparated nicely into the plot, although this being an alternate universe type of story, there are differences of course.
I'm sure anyone reading this will sense that I enjoyed this book immensely. This of course is only the first book in a series which is now six volumes long and I'm so pleased about that! Hopefully I can pick up book two, The Throne of Jade, fairly soon because I really can't wait.