Though his name is technically His Serene Highness, Prince Aleksander of Hohenberg, we'll just call him Alek. That's what everyone else does, anyway, plus it's, um… way shorter.
What's the number one thing to know about our boy (er, prince), Alek? Probably his eternal internal conflict about his personal desires versus his responsibility to Austria-Hungary. This is something he knows a lot about from his dad's questionable choice of a not-royal wife (read: Alek's mom)—because of who his mother is, Alek can't inherit anything, which is a bummer for him, in addition to leaving him a sort of royal/not-royal limbo.
However, Alek still feels loads of responsibility, despite his position as a not-exactly-royal royal. This gets extra-super-complicated when he finds out that the pope has officially declared him royal, but he's not allowed to tell anyone. Awkward.
Despite tons of geopolitical turbulence that says otherwise, Alek is determined to believe that, he, personally, is the sole cause of World War I. He's afraid that his great-uncle, the Emperor, is so determined for him not to inherit anything that he had Alek's parents assassinated and ignited the entire continent of Europe. Like us, Deryn thinks this is silly, but she understands where Alek is coming from. Check it out:
Deryn swallowed, wondering what that must be like—to have your family squabble turn into a barking massive war. No wonder the poor boy looked so stricken all the time. Even if none of it was Alek's doing, tragedies always scattered seeds of guilt in bucketfuls. (35.53)
We feel bad for Alek, but we also wonder if a teensy bit of this also has to do with his unconscious feeling that significantly more of the world revolves around him than in fact does.
Despite his tendency to stop what he's doing and talk about how the whole war is his fault, Alek is also a guy we'd want to have our back in a fight. He's one scrappy little prince, as he proves over and over again as his parents' assassins pursue him across Central Europe. Whether he's piloting a running walker or chopping up phosphorus flares with an antique sword, Alek proves his bravery time and again. He feels responsible for a lot, but he doesn't just sit back and say, woe is me—nope, this dude fights back.
We guess it's natural for His Serene Highness to resist taking orders, but Alek can be downright defiant sometimes. Initially this shows up in his resistance to Count Volger's instructions and his apparent unawareness of how much danger he's really in. Once a few attacks make him change his tune though, Alek's headstrong nature shows up when he insists on speaking in Lienz—and later, it really becomes evident when he leaves the castle hideout to take supplies to the wreck of the Leviathan.
It's not always a bad thing to be defiant, though it can get you in some serious trouble, as it does for Alek. His greatest moment of defiance comes when he stands in front of his totaled walker as the German zeppelins attack:
Then Alek realized where he was standing—right in front of the walker's breastplate, the Hapsburg coat of arms proclaiming exactly who and what he was… (33.37)
Now Alek's really in trouble, because he just threw away all the benefits of skulking around in the dark like a fugitive. The Germans know where to find him now, but we wonder if maybe this forced confrontation wasn't what he was looking for all along.