Book: His Majesty's Dragon
Author: Naomi Novik
Captain Will Laurence of the Royal Navy couldn't imagine doing anything else with his life. With the Napoleonic Wars raging, he and his crew have plenty to do on the high seas. But when they find a dragon egg about to hatch aboard a French ship they've taken, he knows somebody will be chosen by the newly-hatched dragon as a handler and partner, and that someone will find their life changed forever.
To his amazement and horror, that someone is him.
Now Laurence is a Captain of the Royal Air Corps, not the Navy, and has to start from the bottom, learning aerial maneuvers instead of nautical ones, attempting to win the respect of resentful aviators, and dealing with the fact that he's suddenly a social pariah, as no respectable woman wants to marry and settle down with a man who must needs give more attention to his dragon than his wife.
Luckily, he's got his dragon, Temeraire--brilliant, inquisitive, and wholly extraordinary. Laurence couldn't hope for a better companion in this discomfiting new world. Now if only they can live through their next battle.
Okay, okay, this alternate history isn't really a YA book. But come on. It's the Napoleonic Wars with dragons. I imagine that's about all that you'd need in the way of a booktalk, especially for an older teen who's already a history or fantasy buff. Novik's research is sterling--it really feels like the Regency era, in social structures, speech, and interpersonal relationships.
While Laurence may be a little too upstanding and duty-bound for some, his warm and loving relationship with Temeraire provides an emotional anchor (ha! unintentional naval pun) for the events of the story. Great characters (human and dragon) , carefully constructed world, and a compelling storyline--you gotta try this book.
Note of interest: I heard about this one from an unusual source, Father Roderick's Daily Breakfast podcast. He mentioned it because it's going to be made into a movie. I'm already in slavering fangirl mode, and as my first act, I'm going to reserve the next two books in the series from my local library. To the OPAC!