You know those books that you start reading and can’t wait to get back to every time you stop? And then when you finish you can’t stop thinking about it? This is one of those books. I found it immensely fascinating and thoughtful. It begins in the present day with an elderly woman with dementia in a nursing home. The nurses always say she is confused because the woman gets mixed up about who her children are. The thing is, the woman is remembering two different lives. How can this be? well, the story goes back to the woman’s childhood during WWII and starts her story. When she is a young woman in a pretty lousy relationship the man wants to get married and insists they do it immediately, saying “now or never.” And there her life divides, one path for saying “now”, and the other for “never.” Those two lives are extraordinarily different. The story covers at least 50 years so things often move very quickly within a chapter, covering a few years at a time. To keep them straight one path she is known as Pat, the other Tricia. Pat and Tricia have similarities, but mostly differences. One finds love with a woman, the other is a downtrodden miserable housewife. She has children in both lifelines, but they are very different. And, fascinatingly, the world is different in each lifeline, indulging in some serious alternate history.
At the end the lines converge and there is a good comparison. But was one life better than the other? Which would she choose? There was a lot of sadness in both lives, but also many good moments. It was a great story, well told, and very thoughtful.
Finally! The conclusion to the awesome alternate history-World War I-steampunk trilogy is here! All summer long I was looking forward to this and it was indeed a very satisfying end to the trilogy. I’m going to stick with my Star Wars comparison that I told a friend the other day. Much like in the original Star Wars trilogy the middle episode is the strongest (Empire Strikes Back and in this case, Behemoth), if not the happiest.
This final book introduces Nikolai Tesla as a key player in warfare. He’s a Clanker, not a Darwinist, which means his methods involve machinery. His claims to have created a weapon that will be so fearsome it will promptly end the war through terrifying threat bring up the juxtaposition of war/peace. Although this is a trilogy about a war in this volume issues like the greater good, threats, at what cost must the war end seem to be discussed and analyzed an awful lot.
As with the other volumes I loved the descriptions of the air beasts, fabricated beasties, and marvelous machines. Anytime Deryn went topside I knew there would an interesting action sequence. I loved the incorporation of real people (William Randolph Hearst, Pancho Villa) and the role propaganda and film making played. And I was once again grateful for and interested by the breakdown at the end of what exactly was real and what was made up.
As for the long awaited moments of Alek discovering that Derek is really Deryn, a girl, it was very satisfyingly handled. I definitely rooted for them. The story in this volume was not as exciting or strong to me as it was in Behemoth, but it was a good conclusion to the trilogy. And while it was a definitive end I would love it if Mr. Westerfeld wrote some more books in this amazing world he has imagined and built.