Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon is a unique combination of fantasy and Napoleonic conflict. The book, the first in a trilogy, is set during England's 19th-century struggle against Napoleon's France. Novik did not set out to write just an historical novel, however. Instead, she wrote an alternate history of sorts, one in which dragons play an integral role.
Will Laurence commands the English warship Reliant. He encounters a French frigate and captures it (and its cargo). He and his crew are astounded to discover the most unexpected item among the booty: namely, a dragon egg. The battle for supremacy in Europe has a different cast here, as each side possesses a fleet of dragons (and dragon riders), which are used in aerial combat. Clearly, the egg was destined for Napoleon's forces; however, it is unclear why the French ship was so far out to sea since the egg appears almost ready to hatch. There are dangers associated with young dragons - and a navy ship is no place to keep one.
Laurence hopes to get the egg back to England before it hatches (undoubtedly, it will be worth quite a bit). Unfortunately, he is unable to do so. His crew must submit themselves to an odd ceremony after the hatching: namely, they have to make themselves available to the dragon as something of a companion. The companion so chosen will be "imprinted" onto the dragon's mind, and will become the dragon's rider. Normally, this process is done with a trained group of members of the aerial corps. Since it has to happen right away, however, Laurence and his crew do what they can with a makeshift ceremony.
The dragon chooses Laurence - which means that Laurence's life as he had known it has come to an end. The aerial corps is a closed band of loners, largely cut off from and misunderstood by the rest of society. Their constant companions are the great beasts, the majority of whom can speak. (The intellectual level of dragons varies, however, and this will be a component of the story.) The dragon, who is named Temeraire, will have no other rider: and thus begins Laurence's transformation from sea captain to a captain in the uncertain and ethereal world of England's Aerial Corps.