Capt. Will Laurence, of the ship HMS Reliant engages and captures a French ship while out at sea. In its cargo is a dragon's egg and the Reliant takes it aboard as is its due - to the victors go the spoils sort of thing. While returning to port, the dragon hatches, and said young dragon picks Capt. Laurence as his handler. This is a mixed blessing for Capt. Laurence: he will have to now leave the navy's service and become a member of the Air Corp, but Temeraire quickly becomes his closest and most dear friend. However, since he is entering the air corp at such a late age, he and young Temeraire have a lot of learning to do and quickly at that, as Napoleon is knocking at England's door.
This was just a fun, fluff fantasy. It is set in that ever so proper age of honor and duty, where your bloodlines mean more than your character and women are to be protected. And it was here that I had some problems with the setting. Novik establishes the period, then she seems to deviate a bit from the societal norm. Women are found in the air corp as the longwing dragons will take only female riders. Laurence does initially have some qualms about the more delicate sex serving, but he seems to adapt to it darn quickly and in fact takes a fancy to one woman who (gasp!) even admits to having a child out of wedlock. Next thing they are smoking cigars and sharing a bottle of port together.
So is this worthy of being a Hugo contender? In my opinion, I don't think so. This is a nice fantasy but that's about it. I had some trouble with some of the historical anachronisms (if you're going to set something in a period, keep to that period). If you don't care for the Jane Austin type novels and settings, this may not be for you. If you just want a bit of brain candy for the beach or a lazy afternoon in the lawn chair, sit back and enjoy.