In an alternate 1914 Europe, fifteen-year-old Austrian Prince Alek, on the run from the Clanker Powers who are attempting to take over the globe using mechanical machinery, forms an uneasy alliance with Deryn who, disguised as a boy to join the British Air Service, is learning to fly genetically-engineered beasts.
There is only one reason this didn’t pull the coveted 5-star rating, and while the sensible writer in me assures me that’s a fair assessment, the story-lover scolds me for being a rating miser.
The world is well researched, and brilliantly executed, and not the usual era in which steam-punk is usually set. The story begins in 1914 in pre-war Europe, with a kicker of an opening. From there the plot takes a steady pace, not unexciting or uninteresting in the least, but a little too slow for my taste given the intensity of the subject matter. Considering we’re on the brink of war, Westerfeld is in no hurry to get there. At times, it felt as though it were a prequel to an already established series. However, aside from that, and one or two tiny infractions, I enjoyed everything about this tale. Westerfeld has a well-written style that makes otherwise complicated political scenarios easy to follow and understand, and he keeps the logic of his world tight.
All the characters are unique, and, for the most part, believable. Even brief side characters have their own memorable personalities. Despite reviews speaking of the contrary, I thought the two protagonists both acted their age and appropriately given their separate situations, minus one inconsistency towards the end. Character development is subtle, and interaction and dialogue is especially interesting. Scenes move from well-choreographed battle sequences, to chapters that will genuinely move you. The artwork, and it’s placement, is beautiful, and creates the fantastical aesthetic of the monsters and the war-machines. Although, I did find Westerfeld’s descriptions of their images a little hard to grasp without the illustrations.
On all accounts this is a fantastic steam-punk adventure, and a great promise for a wonderful series, and if you love the genre you need to give this a whirl. I can’t wait to read the next installment.