This book was absolutely, positively lovely. It's elegantly written, in that detached-yet-emotional style I'd attribute to Jane Austen (in other words, Novik adopts a style that ordinarily makes me yawn). But, despite the style, this novel really really worked for me. Novik doesn't go out of her way with flowery text - instead she keeps true to the Napoleonic period she is writing in, and allows the characters to speak for themselves.
And what characters. Laurence is not exactly the warm and cuddly type. His strict, rule-abiding nature (along with his tendency to be outraged by the slightest breach in protocol) at first made him rather hard to relate to. He is a product of his environment - a symbol of the age, and whatnot. But as he grows closer to his dragon Temeraire and meets the fascinating cast of characters that make up the Bristish aerial fleet, he starts to loosen that stiff upper-lip of his. It was wonderful to see him come loose, while keeping all the gentlemanly qualities with which he was raised.
I also loved the aerial fleet. I don't want to give away too many spoilers, but I had been afraid that they would be the same upper-crust and bigoted types that made up Britain's historic armies. That's one of my main problems with historical war novels - even though I know they are depicting things in a certain way in order to be historically accurate, that doesn't make it PC. Novik had the advantage of being able to logically insert a more "modern" group of armed forces into history.
But what really carries this book is the bond between Laurence and his dragon Temeraire. It is an extraordinary, beautiful relationship that made me gush more than any romance could have. It's a difficult relationship to describe, as Novik's dragons aren't pets but neither are they "equals" to the humans that become their captains. Since they can speak, they can become a captain's best-friend as well as their constant companion. There's little room for family or relationships when you captain a dragon, yet you would want for nothing.
I found myself thinking about this book whenever I wasn't reading it. Imagining what the characters were getting up to, and dreaming of their future endeavors. It was a rare pleasure.
Bottom line? If you're looking for detailed fantasy/alternative-history novel, Novik is a must. If you're looking for a fantastic novel about dragons, Novik is a must. If you're literate, Novik is a must. Just don't be put off by the formal style!