Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
So, I’ve been curious about Westerfeld’s latest release Leviathan, first, because I loved his Uglies series, and second, because I heard it was steam punk. All my friends tell me they love steam punk, and I have no idea where they were finding all this steam punk stuff to love. It’s like the invisible genre everyone loves, but won’t let you in on the secret of where they are finding all this stuff. So, finally an easily accessible steam punk novel from an author I really like. Score! It gets better though because the book is awesome in many ways. First, the cover is unique and kind of shiny, and the map inside looks cool too. The illustrations throughout the book just add to the whole effect. This is a heavy, nicely presented book that I love to see on my shelf or heft in my hands.
The setting has an alternate history feel to it, as it begins just as WWI is about to break out on Europe. This Europe is technologically different from traditional history. The British Darwinists war machine is based off of genetically engineering “life strands” (DNA) of animals and creating fantastic beasts. Jelly Fish are altered to breathe hydrogen and float into the sky. A living, breathing whale becomes a zeppelin war machine. The German and Austro-Hungarians wage war via huge technological robot creatures called walkers. So there is there cultural warfare of biology vs machinery threaded throughout the entire book.
The book opens as Aleksander Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, confronts the tragedy of his parent’s assassination, the event which sparked the beginning of WWI in our history books. It also sparks war in Aleksander’s world, and turns him into a fugitive. A few of his father’s loyal men help him escape out of the palace in a walker. They evade Germans capture, trying to enter neutral territory where they will be safe to hunker down and wait out the war.
The other story thread involves Deryn Sharp, a girl who has disguised herself as a boy so she can join the British air service. She has a true passion for flight, and disguising herself is the only way to reach her dream. She becomes a mid-shipman aboard the Leviathan, a huge whale-zeppelin hybrid ship. The captain has orders to take a mysterious Dr. Barlow and her precious cargo to the Ottoman Empire as quickly as possible.
So, I adored this book! It was so much fun to read. The book is as much as about exploring this interesting, dynamic setting as it is about these two unique characters. I thought Deryn was hilarious, and I loved her. She takes no crap from anyone, and her comments on the strange practices of boys are hilarious. Aleksander is also a fascinating character, as a noble he’s proud and arrogant, but he’s also smart and clever. He has a knack for running Clanker technology, and it’s fun to watch him master the controls of his walker under the tutelage of his trustworthy crew. Yet, he is also headstrong and stubborn and this trait leads him into trouble when he risks everything to help Deryn’s crew.
I’ve already written a ton and I haven’t even told you half of what I liked yet! As with his Uglies series, Westerfeld masterfully weaves slang, and witty dialogue into his novel to make his imaginary world feel authentic and complex. His characters feel natural and realistic in their settings, and truly this book is an example of why I love to read fantasy. I would recommend it to everyone. I can’t wait for the next book in the series to come out! Behemoth 2010!