I don't know that I could possibly start this review off with sufficient exuberance - I feel like I'd need more exclamation marks, made up words and capital letters than can possibly be healthy or acceptable in a literary blog. Instead I'll just keep it to this: I absolutely could not be happier with His Majesty's Dragon. Less than 2 days after I finished it, I'm already about 30 pages from the end of book 2; when I went to the book store I bought books 2-4 immediately, not to mention the girlish squeal of glee that escaped me when I discovered that there was more than just the trilogy I was expecting. I am entirely thrilled.
I'm trying to recall if I've read any Dragonly literature since my Ann McCaffrey kick back in high school. Back during my freshman year I plowed through every single Dragonrider of Pern book in a matter of a few weeks. I suppose my last book (Guards! Guards!) had some dragon-bits, but it was at least in part incidental to the story, rather than the main focus. Hmm, I hadn't realized it had been so long...
Tangent aside, this book is simply fantastic. The basic premise is straightforward: take the Napoleonic Wars, and imagine that all of the countries possess, in addition to the traditional military and navy, an aerial division of manned dragons. I'm truly impressed by how skillfully she inserted dragons into the history, the change really is about as seamless as you can get. As for the plot itself, the book follows Will Laurence, a naval captain turned aviator. When his crew captures a French vessel that has an egg on board, they can't make it back to port before the egg hatches. When the dragon emerges it attaches itself to Laurence, who names it (Temeraire, if you hadn't guessed) and cares for it in spite of knowing being drafted by the aviators will be the end of his naval career.
Aside from the exceptionally interesting premise, there are a few other noteworthy things about this book. First and foremost: the characterizations are absolutely stunning. Both Laurence and Temeraire are especially vivid and convincing, and each of them develop richly throughout the story. The entire cast of supporting characters are also well developed and inspire a great amount of emotion. On top of these points, the plot is excellent and engaging - it reads like candy and inspires all sorts of appropriate emotions while not being too predictable, and certainly not over-done. The dialog is excellent and the story is historically accurate; I can't even begin to imagine how much research she must have done.
As an amusing, if irrelevant, site note: Naomi Novik is massively adorable. She's a total geek - did her grad studies in Computer Science, was part of the design or dev team for a Neverwinter Nights release, and is in general googley-eyed and cute. Clearly more authors need to be of a geeky nature and personally pleasing to me!
The bottom line: get this book and devour the hell out of it. It's too good to ignore - just be prepared to immediately go invest in the sequels.