Imagine a world where dragons existed, and were used by the various nations of the world as a sort of historical air force. Naomi Novik has created such a world. Britain is trying to repel Napoleon's invasion, and have a much smaller number of combat capable dragons than France.
Captain William Laurence's life is changed completely after his vessel The Reliant captures a French ship off the coast of Madeira. On board they find a dragon egg, and it's about to hatch. The dragons go feral unless they are harnessed right after hatching, before they are fed for the first time, and the person who harnesses them becomes their handler and rider. When the egg hatches, the dragon inside ignores its chosen handler, and approaches Laurence, who has no choice but to harness it and name it(as Britain need all the dragons they can get) , and in doing so, give up the rest of his life to becoming a aviator.
As dragon handlers have to devote the rest of their lives to their dragons, they have no prospects of further promotion, they can rarely settle down and marry, and they usually have to live in remote areas where their dragons won't freak out most of the populace. Laurence and his crew are at first very dismayed about his fate, but within a few days, Laurence has already bonded quite firmly with Temeraire, who proves to very intelligent and a very inquisitive creature. By the time they get to Madeira and it's determined that Temeraire is a very rare Chinese breed known as an Imperial, Laurence is no longer sorry to be bonded with his dragon and determined to make the best of his new situation.
Laurence and his quickly growing dragon have to go to Scotland for training with other dragons in the British aerial corps, and grow ever closer, as they discover the traditions and ways of other dragons and their crews. They have to take part in complex areal maneuvers, Laurence needs to prove that he is worthy of captaining Temeraire, even though he is a navy man and most officers in the aerial corps have trained for it since they were adolescents. The threat of an invasion from France looms, and they don't have a lot of time to get Temeraire and Laurence fighting fit.
I've actually had this book on my shelf for going on three years, and read several reviews of it, but never really felt a pressing need to read it. Once I did, it grabbed my attention and didn't let go, and the only reason I didn't finish it sooner is that my work (mostly) and social life (a little) got in the way. Having read up on the sequels, and seeing that apparently the series goes downhill after a few books, I'm in no real hurry to read more right now (also, trying to diversify more for CBRIII), but I very much enjoyed the world-building, the characterization of the various captains of the aerial corps and their dragons (I want a dragon of my very own), especially Temeraire himself.