This book has been on my TBR list for years, and I finally got around to reading it. Honestly, mostly because it finally showed up available electronically. (The other Punkettes have differing opinions, but I do love my e-books.)
This book was like firefly, but Dieselpunk. And I say that as a fan of Firefly. (If you haven't watched Firefly and don't know what I'm talking about, it's on Netflix, you need to go watch it, right now. I'll wait.)
It's not at all that it felt like a ripoff. It's a combination of the fact that the story centers around the mismatched crew of an airship, all of whom are running from something, and their perpetually broke captain, and the style of humour. The humour plays off the characters and provides much needed lightheartedness to what is at times a story that gets pretty damn dark. And a giant metal steampunky golem with the mental capacity of a toddler.
Darian Frey, Captain of the Ketty Jay is not particularly sympathetic at first, which is likely why the author chose to open the story with the viewpoints of several other characters - ones new to the crew. Frey is a bit of a womanizer, and irresponsible as hell. There's a reason he has trouble keeping a crew together. By a third of the way into the book he'd become one of those characters that I couldn't wait to see him punished, and yet still felt sorry for him, even if it was just a little bit. He's one of the most dynamic characters of the story - he changes a lot in the course of it, and his emotional arc was beautifully handled.
Several of the crew members have their own character arcs, some seem complete by the end of the book, and others, like Crake, look like they'll probably continue into later books, which is cool.
The biggest criticism I had was disappointment that there weren't more female characters. There was Jez, and she was a good character, not a trophy, a character in her own right and all, with her own emotional arc, but the only other two were Frey's ex-girlfriends. I thought, of a seven person crew, you could have one more female character. Frey not liking the male members of his crew to be distracted by women was really a copout excuse.
The setting is very dieselpunk; all lighter-than-air aircraft, though the smaller ones sound like they move fast like heavier-than-air aircraft. They're filled with "aerium", doing away with having to fuss about the specific properties of hydrogen versus helium; though it sounds more like helium, based on it's lack of flammability. Hydrogen - well, it's flammable to the point of being not really fun. you can't have a prolonged fight scene in a hydrogen filled aircraft, stuff goes boom way too fast.
On that point, I had to force myself to overlook the spot where they flew the ship into a storm and came our of it up over the top of the storm. Which - thunderstorms typically top out around 30 000 feet, which is 20 000 feet higher than the point where you need either oxygen, or a pressurized cabin. Later events made it very clear the cabin was not airtight. Pilot brain twitched.
But take it as a testament to the rest of the book that I enjoyed the rest enough to overlook that little bit. By the end, a crew thrown together by chance and necessity pulls together as a team. It was an easy read, a fun romp, and I'm looking forward to getting to the next book.