This is the fifth book in the Temeraire series; if you haven't read the first one, His Majesty's Dragon, get out from under your rock and read it. This continues the series; if you didn't like it before, you still won't; if you're like the rest of us, you're addicted and this is the next hit.
It's really hard to say anything about this book without talking about the actual plot. We continue to pursue the theme of Laurence's sense of honor and duty to his country in the face of his country treating him badly. We continue to follow the thread of trying to bring English society around to the idea that the dragons are actually people and deserve to be treated as such. And, of course, we continue to follow the thread of how Napoleon's military adventures would go in a world that's become so different from history that the original conceit of taking the actual history of the Napoleonic wars and mixing dragons in has completely turned into spinning a story out of whole cloth. The whole series has never worked except as whimsy, and if one tries to look too closely at some of the details in this one, there are more and more suspension of disbelief problems. I remain unable to understand what it is about Temeraire that is so captivating and enchanting that I don't care about anything else -- but I'm still too much in love with Temeraire to not enjoy this book. If you're still reading the series, I think you know what I mean.
8 out of 10.
**** PLOT HIGHLIGHTS -- SPOILERS ****
As the book opens, Laurence is in the brig aboard a ship in the Channel; he's convicted of treason for saving Europe's dragons from the plague, but hasn't been executed because England wants Temeraire, as a breeder at least. Temeraire is miserable off in the breeding grounds in Wales, where the dragons are kept as animals, given a steady food supply and pretty much nothing else, and are remarkably willing to tolerate it. As long as Temeraire is convinced that Laurence is alive, he tries to make the best of it, but he sows the seeds of political trouble when he makes his cave nice and one of the biggest dragons tries to take it over. Then the news comes in that the ship Laurence is on has sunk, and Temeraire sinks into a complete funk. And the news comes in that Napoleon is invading, and this revives Temeraire enough to convince the other dragons and the few humans to totally evacuate the place. They start heading toward London. With the emergency, they need Temeraire to fight, so the brass tries to send a courier to fetch Temeraire only to find all the dragons gone. Laurence and Temeraire get back together. There's some minor fighting. England is routed south of London and falls back to Scotland; the war appears to be lost. But Laurence is sent off as the leader of a squadron who start attacking Napoleon's foragers without quarter, killing the irregulars from the air, and soon Napoleon is being starved out. The people in the countryside see Laurence as a hero and even start to appreciate the dragons, but Laurence believes he's committing terrible atrocities and is disgusted by what he's doing. Napoleon is finally pushed out into a decisive battle, where Wellington manages to lure him fully onto the field into shore bombardment from Lord Nelson, who's snuck up on the battle. The French are smashed and are on the verge of being wiped out to the last man when Lien raises a tidal wave which destroys Nelson's fleet and gives Napoleon enough time to personally escape, but he's lost the army he'd landed and many of his dragons and was clearly defeated.
Through the whole story, Temeraire has pushed the generals just a little too far, but he had gotten Wellesley (made Duke Wellington after the victory) to agree that dragons would receive pay and rank; Temeraire himself was made an officer. Temeraire and some of his loyal friends had sworn than if Laurence were executed, they would go over to Napoleon, and Wellington won't call his bluff, but neither will he pardon the traitor, so at the end of the book they're sent, as prisoners, to Australia. Iskierka, the fire breather whose complete lack of discipline got her into so much trouble, flies out to the ship at the limit of her endurance (so that by the time she's rested enough, the ship will have gone enough farther that she can't return) and joins the company at the end. So presumably in the next book Temeraire will take on Australia while England will start dealing with dragons who've started to think of themselves as people with rights. Oh, and Jane has been officialy made Admiral of the Air; the secret that there are women in the Corps is completely out, and the House of Lords is about to try to deal with the possibility of a woman. Assuming England recovers faster than France and can keep Boney at bay, their society is about to really be turned upside down and shaken; it should be fun.