by Scott Westerfeld
Alek is the prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His parents have been murdered, his country is in turmoil, and his life is in danger. He has had a few lessons on how to operate a Stormwalker, a biology-inspired war machine, but he has to learn most of it while he is on the run from rebel forces who do not want him to ascend to the throne.
Meanwhile, in England, a tomboy named Deryn disguises herself as a boy in order to be allowed to serve in the air forces. She earns a spot aboard the Leviathan, a whale-like airship woven from strands of animal DNA. As Deryn and the Leviathan make their way toward the Ottoman Empire to deliver a top-secret package, Alek and his Stormtrooper head toward neutral Switzerland for safety. Their meeting complicates everything.
This book is fantastic, even if it ends without resolving much (paving the way for a sequel). The narration switches perspectives depending on whether the focus of the chapter is on Alek or Deryn, which gets pretty neat when they meet and Alek believes Deryn to be a boy named Dylan and refers to her with male pronouns. Even though the characters were unoriginal (rebellious rich boy who has to learn about real life the hard way, daring common girl whose unexpected romantic feelings undermine her ‘masculine’ ambitions), it was overall an original read, and the characters develop a lot more in the sequels. Definitely one of the most imaginative steampunk stories I’ve read so far, and with beautiful illustrations.
A good read for anyone who is interested in steampunk, alternate history, books with a World War I setting, or plucky cross-dressers. Very similar story elements to Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn series, with a more complicated setting.