World War I is very rarely the subject of young adult fiction, but Westerfeld not only uses this time period, but also twists it with steampunk awesomeness. Alek is the son of Archiduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, but Alek cannot inherit the Austro-Hungarian Empire, because his mother is not a royal. When his parents are killed, in this story murdered by the Germans, Alek is forced to flee along with two of his father's faithful retainers. Deryn Sharp is a girl who longs to be in the British Air Service and she disguises herself as a boy, Dylan Sharp. Deryn ends up on the Leviathan, a fabricated whale ship, along with Dr. Nora Barlow, who is on a mission to preserve peace with the Ottoman Empire. Alek and Dylan collide on a glacier in Switzerland and must learn to trust each other if they are to survive. Westerfeld has some neat twists in the story including the idea of fabricated beasts and Clanker technology. The language is great including terms like barking spiders and clever boots. Deryn, Alek, Dr. Barlow, and Alek's allies, Klopp and Volger are all likeable and well-developed. Deryn is hilarious at times and readers will love her determination.
Favorite Characters: I loved all of the characters in the story, but Deryn is probably my favorite. She is a strong female and extremely hilarious. I keep wanting to say barking spiders to people, but I know they will just look at me funny. The interactions between her and Alek are wonderful and you can see the very different backgrounds they come from in their dialogue and actions.
Favorite Quote: "It's lucky you came along, or my bum would've been frostbit to blazes!" Just one of Deryn's more memorable quotes.
Definitely 5 bars of chocolate! I listened to the audio which is very well done. Alan Cummings captures the personalities and humor masterfully. I highly recommend this audio, but you will still want to peruse the book for the great illustrations.