From the cover: Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.
Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.
With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected ways, taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.
I’ve long been a fan of Scott Westerfeld’s work, in particular his YA novels So Yesterday and Peeps, but I’ve come to love his new middle grade trilogy best of all. For one thing, it’s steampunk, a subgenre which I adore; but I rarely find an actual novel that, to me, takes full advantage of its potential. For another, the series is based around an alternate World War I; World War I is my primary research interest these days because I find the period absolutely fascinating.
Leviathan is the first in the series, followed by Behemoth; Goliath is out tomorrow. I recommend buying them in hardcover, if you can, because the illustrations are amazingly wonderful, particularly those of the strange gadgets that abound in the series.
If you’re wondering why a middle-grade science fiction novel is being talked about in a romance blog, wonder no more. There’s also a romance! A truly fun romance, or at least a budding romance that I have high hopes will advance in the last book of the trilogy—and it’s star-crossed!
Alek is the son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, royalty from a “Clanker” country that relies on advanced piloted robots for defense. Deryn is a Scottish girl of middle-class origins who’s disguised herself as a boy, “Dylan,” in order to serve aboard England’s great living airship, Leviathan, with its complement of bizarre genetically-modified animals. England’s biologically-based defenses are referred to as “Darwinist.”
When the trilogy begins, Alek’s parents are killed and he is forced to flee along with trusted retainers in one of the Clanker war machines. He pretends to be someone else, because he’s being sought all over the world by both sides of the conflict. He first encounters Deryn when, imperiling his own concealment, he rescues “Dylan.” Deryn, suspicious, is instrumental in Alek’s capture by the Darwinists. This leads, eventually, to an uneasy alliance in which Clanker and Darwinist technologies are combined…and Alek and “Dylan” are frequently thrown into proximity. They work together with a “boffin” (scientist) who’s traveling on Leviathan, and gradually come to know each other’s opinions quite well through their arguments and the tasks they must accomplish together.
Deryn quickly finds she has a crush on Alek because of his personal pride and loyalty to others, and the vulnerability she senses in him; both of them have lost parents, Alek both of them, and can share those emotions. It’s amusing that she finds her crush a bit of an annoyance, and a barrier to maintaining her male disguise! In return Alek, who witnesses many instances of “Dylan’s” cleverness, bravery, and acts of physical derring-do, develops a serious case of hero-worship, which further complicates Deryn’s crush. She wants to reveal that she’s a girl, but is also afraid of the changes in their relationship that would result, and of how his opinion of her might suffer. Both are point-of-view characters, so it’s a lot of fun to see their different opinions of the same events.
A turning point arrives when Leviathan’s captain orders Deryn to spy on Alek and his compatriots. Because she cares for Alek, Deryn pretends she knows nothing useful, when in fact she’s figured out Alek’s politically important identity. Alek finds out, and fearing for her life, gives her permission to betray him, knowing that this means nothing good. Deryn feels that if she reveals herself as a girl, she could escape a traitor’s death…but she’s unable to reveal this to Alek, who confesses to her that he’s in love…with Leviathan. Then he escapes the ship for Istanbul, a Clanker stronghold. Deryn tracks him down there, and helps him with his goals.
In Behemoth, Deryn grows much more aware of her love for Alek, and Alek of his need for Deryn and her soldierly skills.
Now, as I await the third book, Goliath, I am desperate to know: Will Deryn tell Alek her secret, or will he discover it on his own? If he discovers her female identity accidentally, how will that affect their future relationship? Moreover, what conflicts will arise from Alek’s noble birth and Clanker leanings, versus Deryn’s common birth and Darwinist affiliation?
Most importantly, can we look forward to smooches?
Victoria Janssen is the author of three erotic novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.