World War I is rewritten in this novel from the growing genre called "Steam Punk." Aviation and mechanics are taken one step further as the British use bio-engineered animals to fly and the Germans create giant walking mechanics.
Alek is awoken in the middle of the night and forced to flee for his life. His father is the Archduke Ferdinand who has just died. Meanwhile in England, Deryn Sharp is disguising her self as a boy to joining the air force. Their worlds cross on the eve of World War I. Will the two differing views be able to come together for the benefit of all concerned?
Patriotism is a huge theme of this book. Both sides remain loyal to their individual countries. All believe that they are serving in the best interests of their sides. Deryn does lie about her gender to get in to the air force but she does work hard and is very intelligent. Several characters are willing to lie to make sure that others are safe.
Again this is a war story, many of the nations are hungry for war. In the greater scheme of the story, it is only lightly touched on. To some characters war is thought to be glorious, though neither Alek nor Deryn see it as such.
Some people believe that the engineered animals are soulless. The pope is mentioned several times. There is talk of a "left-handed marriage."
This is a war novel so there are many battles. The reader is spare any gory details however. Several people are killed but they are not main characters. The book starts just after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Deryn starts to have feelings for Alek. Alek talks about how his parents fell in love. Everything is very chaste, however.
Crude or Profane Language or Content
Deryn is known for her cursing. She repeatedly calls people a "bum rag" and uses other WWI era expletives. Because the English use animals to fly, there is often talk about animal excrement.
This is a very difficult book to explain to someone. Once I got past all the changes in the history, it was a very enjoyable read. I found Alek very compelling and his journey to maturity is very touching. Deryn is brave and witty.
However, to history buffs who might read it, the facts are greatly altered. This can be off setting at times as the author is not opposed to changing documented historical facts to suit the narrative's flow.
Also, I did find some of the descriptions of the British use of their flying beasts a little unsettling. Darwin is held in high regard by the British as well.