This was sort of my first venture into the world of "Steam Punk". I say sort of because I've read some other books that might fit (Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy) but don't know if they officially count as Steam Punk. Anyway, the Steam Punk genre seems to be generally defined, in my own words, as taking place in a wacky alternate universe to Victorian England. Imagine if Oliver Twist or David Copperfield was full of Dirigibles and a race of steam-boiler propelled mechanical men. That might get you in the general vicinity of The Court of the Air(by the way I totally stole the Dickens reference from a review on the cover).
Throw in a couple of orphans, lots of communists, some ancient insect gods and magic and you'd think you'd have a pretty good adventure story. And it starts off pretty well. We get introduced to two enigmatic orphans Molly and Oliver who are destined to play two large and opposing parts in their country's salvation. Molly has a supernatural knack for all things mechanical and she is quickly put on the run when her orphanage is attacked and it is clear she was the target. Oliver similarly is blasted out of his boring life living with an uncle in a podunk town when assassins show up and he is rescued by a not-as-rakish-as-the-author'd-like-you-to-think operative of the mysterious Court of the Air. The Court of the air is a group of super top-secret folk flying around in hot-air balloons that are meant to be the policer's of the police of Jackals, i.e. they're supposed to keep the big wigs and balance of power in check and are so secret they've become legendary. And it really is interesting so its kind of disappointing when the Court remains completely mysterious, because while the book is called Court of the Air, the organization plays very little role in the book and in a very befuddling manner, completely dissappears during the crucial conflict of the book.
My final verdict is this. It's like the two halves of the story are meant to be in completely different novels. I found the first half interesting and promising with some good potential character development. But in my opinion it completely loses its way round about the halfway mark. Everything becomes over the top - characters become one-dimensional charaicatures even to the point of spitting out Schwarzenegger-esque one-liners. The story becomes silly, unfocused, and boring, the characters laughable and not in a good way. I had to really push to finish it.
So this was a prtty sad reading experience as I was humming along really enjoying it just to watch it crash and burn in the latter half. I wouldn't recommend it.