Add in that this book takes place in a reimagined Austro-Hungarian Empire on the eve of World War I, and you have the recipe for a book that I should adore.
However, I think I liked the idea of this book perhaps a little more than the book itself. It wasn't bad, that's for sure. And I enjoyed it. But I think I just wanted so much more from it.
WHAT WAS WRITTEN
It is 1914 and the world is divided between the Clankers (Austro-HUngarian) and the Darwinists (British). The Darwinists have used genetics to evolve animals into being useful to humans for things like transportation and war. Genes are spliced together and giant hybrid animals are the norm. The Clankers lie on the complete opposite end of the spectrum - they have advanced machines and technology to help their society flourish.
In the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Archduke, Franz Ferdinand, has just been assasinated. His son, Prince Aleksandar, is now on the run from the assassins. As the would-be heir to the throne, his title is now worthless and has instead become a death sentence as all of his people has turned on him. All he has is an old war machine and a few close, loyal men to help him survive.
Hundreds of miles away, Deryn Sharp is a commoner who has disguised herself as a boy in order to join the British Air Service. She is brilliant at anything that has to do with flight and the 'beasties' who take men into the air. However, she's constantly in fear that her secret will be discovered and she'll be grounded forever.
With World War I on the horizon, Deryn and Alecsandar's paths cross in the most unexpected way. And what follows is an adventure which will take them around the world and change their lives forever.
WHAT MY BRAIN HAS TO SAY ON THE MATTER
Like I said earlier there is so much about this book that set it up to be a book I would adore. But there were times where it, well, where it just fell a little flat for me.
The major problem for me was also something that I found fascinating. Westerfeld spends so much time explaining the alternate history, the machines, and the world around Daryn and Alec that I feel like the story got lost amid the details. Now, yes, the details were fascinating. But by the time I got finished with one of Deryn's descriptions of a beastie I had forgotten what was going on in her part of the story.
It just made the plot drag on for me and stagnate at points. Because, really? The plot (when it was moving forward) was really exciting. With Alec being chased across the Austro-Hungarian Empire and slowly learning about his family history. And then with Daryn's fortuitous rise to a worker on one of the airships she has dreamed of her whole life. This book is primed for an action-packed, fast-paced novel that I should run right through. But it didn't, and that disappointed me. I hate when I get bored while I'm reading.
Now, some of the things that I thought were great.
Let's start with the illustrations. Because? Those are all fantastic. Absolutely amazing. The details that were put into each and every image of that book were marvelous. I loved having them there to bring some of the more technical pieces of Westerfeld's world to life. I would stop and stare at some of the drawings (especially when the story was dragging) because of the exquisite detail. They made such a positive and important impact on the story.
I also really loved the re-imagined history that Westerfeld tells. For a few reasons. One, I am such a history geek. I think it's fascinating when an author can look at a set history in our past and say "well, what would have that been like if...?" and then tell a wonderful story with that as its base. Two, how many kids read this book and then started looking into WWI? I bet a good few. And any book that makes a kid excited about learning makes me insanely happy. So, thanks for that Westerfeld.
Now, while I wasn't completely thrilled by this book, I am definitely intrigued. I plan on reading the second book in this series - I really want to see where he's going with this world. Maybe since so much time was spent in this novel explaining all the little details of the Clankers and the Darwinists the next book will be more plot driven. Fingers crossed.
THE NITTY GRITTY
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Genre: Young Adult, Steampunk, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Alternate History
Medium: Hardcover, 440 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse (6 October 2009)
Date Read: 27 DEcember 2013
Source: Borrowed From The Library
Recommended For: Middle School +, Those Who Enjoy Alternate Histories, Steampunk Enthusiasts
First Line: The Austrian horses glinted in the moonlight, their riders standing tall in the saddle, swords raised.
Favorite Line: Maybe this was how you stayed sane in wartime: a handful of noble deeds amid the chaos.
Last Line: But the eggs just sat there, not answering at all. [whited out, for spoiler's sake]