Prince Aleksander, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run after his parents are assassinated in an attempt to start a war between the great European and Asian powers. He has nothing but a few bars of gold, a beat-up war machine, and a small but very loyal crew. Deryn Sharp is a young lady disguised as a boy in the Royal Air Service of Britain. She is a spectacular airman, but lives in constant fear of her secret being discovered. Alek and Deryn’s paths cross when the air-beast Leviathan on which Deryn is a crewman crashes in the Swiss mountains near the abandoned castle where Alek and his friends are hiding. Forced to work together to survive, Alek and Deryn must learn to trust each other and accept the other’s way of life if they are to get out of their dangerous situation alive.
I wasn’t sure about the concept of this book when I first started reading. Alek is a Clanker, a citizen of the countries who build war machines and rely on machinery and technology for every day life. Deryn’s country is Darwinist. Using the discoveries of Charles Darwin, the Darwinists fabricate animals to accomplish things from every day tasks to being a large flying vehicle. I’ll admit, I thought this concept was rather strange, and I am still not convinced by the Darwinist theory, but once I got into the book it didn’t bother me so much. And the whole thing was very steampunk, which I liked of course.
I liked the characters of both Deryn and Alek. They both came from troubled backgrounds, and were each missing at least one parent, and both lost parents due to tragedies. Neither of them acted like the “stereotypical” type of character. Deryn was a girl masquerading as a boy in the Royal Air Force, but aside from some comments about shaving, this wasn’t the main focus of Deryn’s part of the story. Alek didn’t act like a normal young Royal boy on the run. He wasn’t particularly whiny, and he wasn’t perfect at being in hiding, which I thought I was a nice touch. He made decisions that he believed were right even when the adults he was with disagreed with him. At times he acted his age, and at times he acted much more mature than his age. Both characters did. I liked the characters enough to overlook some of the weirdness about the Darwinists that I didn’t quite buy in to. (Of course, I also reminded myself this is a kid’s book, and things don’t need to be explained perfectly clearly for that audience, so I supposed for a children’s book the explanation was just fine). The ending was not necessarily a “cliffhanger” but it did leave you with questions that encourage you to read the next book Behemoth, which I plan to do.
I haven’t read any of Scott Westerfeld’s very popular Uglies series, because that’s not really my kind of book, and I read the first book in the Midnighters series and thought it was pretty lame. I hadn’t even realized until I visited Westerfeld’s website that all those books were written by the same person. I don’t remember Midnighters that well, aside from not liking it, but this book was good. I like when an author can write books that are so very different that even if I don’t like everything he or she writes I can still enjoy some of his writing. I’m looking forward to the next book!