First, this book is part of a series, which is not immediately obvious from the product description, or the back of the book itself. Each book appears to have been written as a stand alone novel, and I managed to read the entire text happily enough, despite not having read the preceding two novels. Having said that, I believe a reader might benefit from the background I presume lurks in the previous novels, and where I struggled with quickly introduced background pieces, a long time reader would have adjusted more comfortably.
The world that has been created is a rich and diverse one, borrowing attitude and some cultural markers from the Napoleonic era, whilst also throwing in steampunk-eque elements - a fleet of airships serving as the only airforce, submarines with chased-lion brass torpedo tubes and elaborate figureheads. The diverse lands and cultures inhabiting the world are carefully drawn, each obviously given a history and life uniquely its own.
The characters are perhaps something of a let down - compared to the complex and elaborately crafted world they inhabit, I never got a clear sense of what many of them wanted, and what they were driven by. This was by no means the rule - some of the characters were strongly developed, and I certainly felt that (outside of the antagonists), none suffered from lacking detail. It is really only the comparison to the world itself that makes the characters suffer - and each is unique, interesting enough, and has a role to play.
This book is something of an adventure of the old school, with a foot firmly planted in the territory of Edgar Rice Burroughs and his `John Carter of Mars' series, the other wedged in `Sharpe' and `Hornblower'. Events happen quickly, and whilst the first chapters seem a little slow, it becomes clear that this is merely a `slow burn' prelude to the plot-packed sections that follow. Each scene is individually strong, and carries a very satisfactory sense of high adventure. The characters (and the reader) often have little time for introspection, simply because the next crisis is looming, and the reader is kept turning the pages to see how it all ends.
This is an excellent adventure novel, a great page-turner, and I heartily recommend it!