Okay, yes this is essentially a young adult (kids) book, but the premise of the story and the amount of positive reviews that I've heard, (I first heaOkay, yes this is essentially a young adult (kids) book, but the premise of the story and the amount of positive reviews that I've heard, (I first heard about the book from a gaming podcast I listen to which also introduced me to the delights of the Dresden Files books), made me curious enough to pick it up.
The book is a steampunk alternate-history story of World War I told from the perspectives of two young people; Alek, son and heir to the murdered Archduke Franz Ferdinand ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Deryn Sharp, who disguises herself as a boy to realise her dream of flying in the British Air Service. As this is a steampunk story there is a great hook in that in this world the Germans, Austrians and their allies, (known as Clankers), are masters of mechanical engineering and employ walking tanks and massive spider-like land ships. Conversely the British, French and their allies, (known as Darwinists), have employed genetic engineering to create beasts of war and of burden.
One of these massive fabricated animals is the Leviathan, a gigantic beast made from a mix of whale, jellyfish and more to create a living equivalent to an airship. Much of the story is based on the Leviathan where Deryn finds herself working and it is an interesting concept. I have to say though - I found the idea of the Clanker warmachines, eight-legged walking frigates and battleships, much more fun and I was disappointed there wasn't a huge amount of detail on them as they always appear as a distant opponents of both the protagonists.
The book is obviously aimed at a younger audience with the occasional violence not dwelled upon and the harshest example of swearing being, "Barking Spiders!". Not that this should really bother me but somehow the YA tone was more apparent to me than such books as Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching stories, which are also aimed at a young audience and yet have universal appeal.
I have to say I still enjoyed the book although the steampunk concept resonated with me more than the story, which I found fairly clichéd and lightweight despite the wartime setting. This book is also illustrated, which is rare for books I read but always nice. The drawings are good quality and great when depicting the various creatures and warmachines but lend the human characters a cartoonish quality that really emphasise the book's intended audience....more