I found this story to be a quite enjoyable listen. It’s set in an alternative version of WWI with the warring powers divided by technology as well as politics.  In this alternative world, Britain, Russia, and France use fabricated animals to power their society and wage war and are called Darwinists. Meanwhile, Germany and Austria-Hungary use steel, engines, and fuel and are called Clankers. There are walking tanks and battleships, zeppelins, and aeroplanes on the Clanker side and living airships, tiger-crossbreds, messenger lizards on the Darwinist side.

The story follows two main characters, both fifteen years old. One is a British girl by the name of Deryn who has disguised herself as a boy to join the British Air Service. Through skill and some luck she gains the position of Midshipman on a gigantic living airship called the Leviathan. In addition to her ship duties, she also is at the service of lady scientist, Dr. Nora Barlow, on a mysterious mission that requires the Leviathan to transport her to the Ottoman Empire.

The other main character is Alek, the fifteen year old son of an assassinated Austro-Hungarian Archduke who is being hunted by the Germans.  Like in the real WWI, the assassination of Alek’s father is the spark that sets off the war. Alek, however, wasn’t an actual person in real history.

The first half of the novel or so is spent introducing these characters as Alek and the men protecting him flee and fight the Germans, and Deryn settles into becoming part of the Leviathan crew. Eventually their paths cross and the action notches up as they become unlikely allies.  I liked the writing, which felt breezy and fun. Deryn in particular is quite enjoyable to read, especially when she starts to interact with the clever and observant Dr. Barlow.  Alek isn’t quite as interesting. He has the challenge of adjusting from a life of luxury and safety to being on the run, but it lacked the fun of Deryn’s sections.

Once the paths do cross, the energy of the novel picks up and Alek’s development does as well as he starts to take command from his protectors and deal with the loss of his parents.  Don’t get me wrong though, it’s mostly action from this point on.

The novel doesn’t really come to an end. They escape the immediate dangers, but nothing is really concluded and their are many mysteries left as well as Deryn’s burgeoning attraction to Alek complicated by the fact that Alek doesn’t know she’s a girl. There are two more books in the series, so you’ll need to pick them up to really complete the story. I might read the next one at some point, but I’m trying to sample different authors right now so it won’t be anytime soon.

Overall, I’d say this is a good, fun read. It feels like a middle-grade book to me in terms of the characters, plot, and reading level. There’s some violence here and soldiers do die. It’s set during a war after all. Nothing gruesome though. If you have an interest in steampunk, then you’ll want to pick it up.

Age Group: MG – Middle Grade
Explicit: Some Violence
My Rating:

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