The good thing about being slow about reading hot new books is that by the time you get around to them there is already a sequel waiting for you. So I finished this last night and can start the sequel the minute Paul brings it home from work. Westerfeld is a bit of a darling of ya lit (author of Pretties, Uglies) and this steampunk novel has been hugely popular. Although I wouldn’t say I’m a steampunk fan, not having read much of it, I do think I like it very much. I adored Airborne, with it’s blend of science, fantasy, Victorian type trappings, but modern day things too.
This is an alternate history of the start of World War I, set in a world where there are Darwinists and Clankers. Darwinists (Britain) have taken Darwin’s findings (in this story he also discovers DNA) and used it to create fabricated beasties–creatures created from hundreds of different animal forms to make combination animal/machine type things. Pretty difficult to explain, and I was delighted there were illustrations in this novel because I’m not sure I could fully envision a flying ship that is a living breathing whale, but people are inside it and there are some engines and things, too. It was super fascinating and really detailed and fully imagined. Clankers (Austria-Hungary, Germany) abhor man’s messing with nature and revere machinery instead. They’ve created Stormwalkers, which are totally the machines in Star Wars ( At-At.)
The two main characters in the book are the son of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Alek, and Deryn, a girl disguised as a boy so that she can join the Air Service. The story alternates between the two and their two very different worlds. Alek is on the run as the hidden heir to an empire, Deryn is committed to being in the Air Service. Both are horrified by the countries coming to war and also by what they believe about the other side. It’s no surprise that they end up meeting and then the story continues with them together as allies.
This was a fabulous adventure story (also, although the author takes liberties with facts it did actually help me understand the origins of WWI a bit-there is a good afterword where he explains what is fact and what is fiction in his story) and I cannot wait to read the next installment!