Release Date: November 12, 2013
Source: Physical ARC
Published by: Henry Holt & Co.
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In 1862, Union army infantryman Samuel Dakota changed history when he spilled a bottle of pilfered moonshine in the Virginia dirt and stumbled upon the biochemical secret of flight. Not only did the Civil War come to a much quicker close, but Dakota Aeronautics was born.
Now, in Andy Marino's Uncrashable Dakota, it is 1912, and the titanic Dakota flagship embarks on its maiden flight. But shortly after the journey begins, the airship is hijacked. Fighting to save the ship, the young heir of the Dakota empire, Hollis, along with his brilliant friend Delia and his stepbrother, Rob, are plunged into the midst of a long-simmering family feud. Maybe Samuel’s final secret wasn’t just the tinkering of a madman after all. . . .
What sinister betrayals and strange discoveries await Hollis and his friends in the gilded corridors and opulent staterooms? Who can be trusted to keep the most magnificent airship the world has ever known from falling out of the sky?
Mini review! Kind of. As mini as a Christina review will ever get.
First off, let me say that I haven't read many steampunk novels. That was part of the allure for me, but I cannot tell you how this book ranks within its genre or in comparison to others like the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld. There are some reviews which already have, if you're interested in them.
As some of those reviews mentioned, this book has a definite middle-grade / younger reaches of YA steampunk Titanic in the sky vibe going for it. To call anything uncrashable, unbreakable, etc. is to invite trouble. The difference between this novel and the Titanic bit is that Uncrashable Dakota focuses much less on romance (none here!) and much more on swashbuckling adventure for our young main characters.
This book is very inventive. You know what gives these characters the power of human flight? Beetles. And some mixture of moonshine and sap. It's not a secret - beetles are the logo of Dakota Aeronautics and as such, they're featured as headers at the beginning of every chapter. You get to explore this aspect, and how that factors into the ship as well as the ship dynamics, other inventions/steampunk gadgetery, beetle cults, class tension, family legacy, and the effects of flight on the civil war. The book alternates between chapters on the history of Dakota Aeronautics and the present realization of how the company is faring. One thing I would say I wished for was a map of the ship; instead of the beetle headers, why not give us a map to picture how everything was laid out? The cover is kind of there, and the details are there, but I'm not a visual reader nor do I know what the name of each thing is in relation to the picture on the cover.
Sometimes I wanted to throw up while reading. BEETLES. BEETLES. I am the person who closed her eyes during the Mummy because BEETLES. I had no idea that this book involved them -- I'd only seen the cover and the synopsis when I requested it. (And okay, I just looked at the cover more closely, and there are beetles on the beams. Clearly I'm a fail.) There are some pretty disgusting things in here related to beetles that make me want to scrap out my mouth and pretend I never read about them. Very inventive and also cinematic but *shudders.*
This book has the feel of the fourth Harry Potter book in terms of friend/character dynamics. Hollis's friend Delia felt like a Hermione to me - very smart and driven, and the one who unites the group. She's more of a scientist type than Hermione and has a harsher background that rounds out some of the themes in the novel. Neither Hollis nor Rob really remind me of Harry or Ron in terms of personality, but their character relationship did. It was fun to get to experience the adventure first hand the changing dynamics of their sibling-esque relationship as Hollis uncovers more about his family legacy. The other characters didn't get as much attention as these three did, and Delia's definitely my favorite of the bunch.
Although it seems more suited for the younger crowd, this book also deals with some heavy issues like privilege, taking responsibility for the past, and detaching yourself from war and other people - losing touch with your humanity in different ways and the ways that class tension is exposed across interactions between the crew and the Dakotas and the dynamics of the ship. These themes will make this book a more satisfying read for the younger crowd it's targeting. The reason I'd recommend to a younger crowd is because it was sometimes frustrating to read. It makes sense that these young, naive characters would not realize what was happening at the time, but as a reader I figured things out long before they did and any time that happens it's frustrating. At the same time, I think that problem would be lessened in younger readers who will love the adventurous and inventive aspects of this novel.
If you're interested in sampling Mr. Marino's work, read The Oregon Trail Diary of Willa Porter or an excerpt from Uncrashable Dakota.