This was a great book.
Temeraire follows Captain Will Laurence, naval officer aboard the Reliant during the Napoleonic Wars. He's well respected, well-liked and professional according to the standards of the time. That's until he captures a highly-prized dragon egg from a French frigate, and is forced to go into the Aerial Corps, leaving the life he's built for himself on sea and land, to fight for his country with his dragon Temeraire.
It's kind of like Persuasion but with dragons, if Anne and Wentworth had never got back together and we saw what happened to Wentworth afterwards...OK, not really. But Persuasion was very much on my mind as I read this, and I think it's because Novik is really great at conjuring that time period authentically. The dialogue feels accurate but never stilted, and we get a real sense of that society's rules, its emphasis on manners and propriety. Laurence is very much a gentleman, despite the roughness of the corps which he has to join; he sticks to the rules. Novik renders those relationships - between officers, between officers and crew, between gentlemen and gentlewomen - very satisfyingly; we're really immersed in that culture and its restrictions, as well as its freedoms.
Speaking of relationships: isn't Temeraire the best? I loved seeing the bond between Laurence and his dragon developing; there were so many awwww! moments that I thought my heart might burst. I want a dragon. Where can I get one?
Also, although the main character is male, there are plenty of female characters here and they're all badass. I've heard it argued a couple of times that it's okay for historical fiction to be, well, not very positive with regards to women, because they were marginalised in those times; Temeraire kind of blows that notion out of the water. Though the women here are culturally marginalised, they're still capable of making their voices heard: there are a couple of dragon-handlers who are secretly women (there's a breed of dragon that will only accept a female handler), and they don't hold no truck with society's limitations (I loved that we got to see how taken-aback Laurence was at the concept); and Edith, Laurence's sort-of fiancé, is strong enough to make her own rational decision about whether she wants to marry a dragon-handler. I liked that the book doesn't focus on romantic relationships, though there are a couple; it's much more interested in the relationship between Temeraire and Laurence.