I really enjoy historical fiction, but what’s even better is historical alternate fiction with steampunk!
Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld, takes place in June of 1914, when Europe (not to mention the rest of the world) is on the brink of war. It seems that any excuse would bring about a worldwide war. The world is divided essentially into two factions (excepting neutral parties, though Switzerland would kind of favor one over the other…): the Darwinists (Allies–England, France, America, and their allies etc..) and the Clankers (Axis–Germany, Austria-Hungary, and their allies etc…). Deryn is a Scottish girl who was brought up to be in the air. Her father practically raised her on airships and taught her everything she knows. The downside is that she can’t join the military because of her gender. Alek is the (fictional) son of Archduke Ferdinand. Alek’s father’s fateful assassination tips Europe into the war for which it has been waiting.
The Darwinists have perfected genetic engineering, and they use fabricated creatures to great effect. They pilot great, gigantic air beasts–large whales which exude hydrogen so they can float and carry passengers. The Darwinist world is populated with entire ecosystems which serve their needs, like message lizards and bats that poop spikes. Daryn longs to be among these airmen, living in the clouds.
The Clankers have steam-powered machines which are the brute force of their military. They are steam-powered, iron walkers with mounted cannons. They move fast, but are rather loud. They take great skill to pilot them. Alek is training to be a military leader when his father is murdered and he must flee due to his illegitimate birth.
I like that this is rather educational (read the author’s note as well) while also providing the interest for the fantasy lovers. Even more, the use of Clankers and Darwinists and their rivalry allows for the exploration of prejudice. They vehemently hate each other, yet they have similar values and ways of doing things. The Clankers call the Darwinists godless for tampering with different species, while the Darwinists believe that the Clankers are soulless for turning to metal rather than life.
Read this, but a nice touch is the sketches which are included to enhance the world a little. I love a book with pictures!