Author: Scott Westerfeld
Illustrator: Keith Thompson
Pages: 440 pages
Publisher/Date: Simon Pulse (imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division), c2009.
Alex was still waving when the first broadside erupted, bright flashes rippling along the dreadnought’s flank, puffs of cannon smoke swelling into a hazy veil around her. The sound followed moments later — a rolling thunder that broke into sharp, tearing bursts from every direction. The treetops churned around them, concussions shaking the Stormwalker and throwing clouds of leaves into the sky.
Then Volger was dragging him back down into the cabin the engines roaring back to life.
“Load the cannon!” Master Klopp cried to the men below.
Alex found himself deposited into the commander’s chair as the machine began to move. He struggled with the seat as the machine began to move. He struggled with the seat straps, but a terrible thought took hold of his mind, freezing his fingers.
If they’re trying to kill me. . . it’s all true.
Count Volger crouched beside him, yelling over the rumble of engines and gunfire. “Take heart at this impoliteness, Alex. It proves that you are still a threat to the throne.” (47-49)
Aleksandar Ferdinand, called Alek by his tutors and family, is the son of the archduke of Austria-Hungary but due to his mother’s common blood is not allowed to inherit the throne. So he’s not prepared to run for his life when his parents are both poisoned. After fighting mechanical machines as World War I begins to erupt around him, Alek and his protectors think they’ve reached safety. But when a whale airship employed by the British crash lands nearby, Alek feels duty-bound to help the helpless. It’s there he meets Deryn Sharp, a recruit to the Royal Navy who has disguised herself as a boy in order to fulfill a dream of flying. Between the two of them, they might be able to keep each other alive, but will they also be able to ensure that a doctor and her mysterious precious cargo make it to the destination unscathed?
Before commenting on the story , I have to comment on the illustrations by Mr. Keith Thompson. They bring this whole world to life. It’s so important to be able to visualize these fantastical creations, and Thompson contributes beautiful interpretations. You have to wonder how much guidance and description he was given by Westerfeld outside of the story’s text. I’m unsure if he also did the map on the end pages of the book, but that is also a work of art which simplifies and clarifies the alliances, although I think the colors could have been a little more distinguished from one another.
Westerfeld writes an action packed adventure with lots of fights and shoot outs that will keep you interested. But it’s far from a hold-them-up, fast-fingered shoot-out. The science behind the Darwinist technology is given just enough background to make it easy to suspend your “real-world” beliefs. There’s political intrigue as well, as Alek and company try to figure out what to do and who to trust. It’s impressive the forethought that went into the plan to get Alek out alive if something bad were to happen (which it does), and it’s unfortunate how badly the well-thought-out plans go awry. Westerfeld is smart in starting both Alek’s and Deryn’s stories before the action starts, so readers experience the confusion along with the characters. For steampunk fans, it’s a great addition and to inexperienced readers it’s a first-class introduction to this ever-expanding genre. For people intrigued by the history behind the story, Westerfeld separates the fact from the fiction in an afterword. And is that just a hint of romance that I see? I guess we’ll have to find out in the sequel. The ending is ripe for the sequel, titled Behemoth, which has already been released.
Just recently, this book was reviewed on YALSA’s newest blog, The Hub. If you haven’t taken a look yet, you might just want to add it to your blog roll.