First, a disclaimer: I had never, ever heard of steam punk before this book, let alone read it. I had no idea what it entails, what makes a good steam punk book, or what even to expect.
But if this is even remotely typical of the genre, I’m hooked. It was an awesome, wild and weird ride, a fabulous adventure — no one writes nail-biting action like Scott Westerfeld — and a grand beginning to a story that has the potential to be absolutely amazing.
It’s 1914, on the eve of the Great War. Alek is a prince of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and it’s the murder of his parents that sets off the war, as well as sends Alek on the run for his life. All he has with him is a few loyal men, and a Stormwalker in order to fend off the Germans. Deryn is a commoner, a girl, who desperately wants to fly in the British Air Service. Mind you, they’re not flying planes, but rather Darwinist living creatures — huge ecosystems of creatures that work together to get off the ground. Deryn disguises herself as a boy, and by a fluke or two of nature (ha!), ends up as part of the crew of Britain’s newest airship, the Leviathan.
Told in alternating chapters, the book details not Alek’s escape from his palace and Deryn’s entry into the air service, but their eventual meeting and the results of that meeting. As I mentioned before, there’s tons of nail-biting action from Alek’s initial escape to a couple of attacks by the Germans. But what I found most fascinating (and wild and weird) was the combination of historical fiction and futuristic elements, as well as a re-imagining of science. I loved the Clankers versus Darwinist feud, as well as each individual science. The clanker machines were awesome, powerful, and captivating to read about. But the Darwinist inventions — the wild cross-breeds, the machinations to keep them up in the air, the things (like flechette bats, for instance) that Westerfeld created — were the things that kept me turning pages and shaking my head in amazement. What kind of imagination dreams this stuff up? (Well, Westerfeld’s, of course.)
The book ends somewhat abruptly, but I’m totally sold: I want to know what happens next. I want to know what new adventure Deryn and Alek are going to go on, and I want to know about the small mystery that’s part of the larger story.
The problem — as with all books with sequels — is being patient until the next one comes out.
Rated: Mild for some thematic elements