I have been meaning to read this book for a long time but haven’t, mostly because I was either reading something else or couldn’t buy it on sale, which is the way I buy most of my books. Because I have written one steampunk book (and may write more in the future), I am always interested in books that fall in or near that category. I wouldn’t specifically categorize this book as steampunk for a couple of reasons, but it’s close.
The first thing I realized when reading this is that it’s not a teen book. Although it might be classified as YA, it’s reading level and maturity of characters falls similar to The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanigan, which I would say is preteen. The main characters in this story are both 15 years old, but in many cases act and speak younger than that, which might be realistic considering where and when the story takes place.
It is 1914. Europe is on the brink of war. But it is a different Europe than what we are familiar with. The Allies forces are referred to as the Darwinists, due to the fact that most of their armies and arms are based on genetic manipulation and breeding giant animals as beasts of burden and vehicles for flight. The Axis forces, known as the Clankers, rely on mechanical technology, which includes zeppelins, two- and six-legged walkers (some as large as battleships) and other mechanical devices.
That is just the setting. In this are dropped a young boy, Alek, who happens to be the son of the Archduke of the Austrian Empire and his wife, and a young girl, Deryn,whose ambition is to be a flyer in the British Air Force. Each have secrets that they need to keep. At first their stories are told independently, but in time, their paths cross and their futures become intertwined. The title of the book comes from the giant, living, breathing beast that is the Darwinist equivalent of a zeppelin upon which they all end up flying across Europe.
This isn’t Twilight, and it isn’t The Hunger Games. There isn’t any romance in this story (at least at this point), although there are hints that it may be coming. Part of the tension of the book is that Deryn is impersonating a boy in order to serve in the British military. There are several instances when she is almost discovered. Alek’s secret, that he is in line to the throne of the Austrian Empire, comes out pretty early in contrast. But because Deryn is impersonating a boy, there’s not a lot of likelihood of kissy-face going on, even though, as I mentioned, there are hints of the future.
This is written is a masculine style, which to me means lots of action and less character development and relationships. Because of that, it will probably appeal to both boys and girls, but most likely younger than the Hunger Games crowd. Dialogue is great. The girl is supposedly Scottish, and the words she used convinced me that the author had to be Scottish too, until I read that he is Australian, just as John Flanigan is. The language is distinctive, fun, and realistic.
I had fun reading the book, and will probably go on and read the sequel. You do need to realize when you read a book at this level that there isn’t going to be a lot of sophistication in a book like this, and there aren’t really any subplots. But it’s a fun, fast read all the same.
I give it 4 1/2 stars out of five.