Author: Scott Westerfeld
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Trade Paperback/440 pages
It is the eve of WWI and a Hapsburg prince named Alek is unaware that his life is about to drastically change. The Germans have been itching to start a war and the assassination of the Archduke has given them the opportunity. To avoid capture, Alek flees his Austrian homeland in a “Clanker” called a Cyklop Stormwalker with a few loyal men that are entrusted with his safety. On the other side of Europe, Deryn is a young woman who desperately wants to serve in Britain’s military so she disguises herself as a boy and signs up to fly in “Beasties” and is assigned to Leviathan. Little do either of them know that the war will make them cross paths and set them on a dangerous mission together.
I do not read a lot of YA novels, but I was desperately looking for some steampunk to read. I picked up Leviathan because Scott Westerfeld is coming to the Texas Book Festival on October 16-17 this year and I am going to try to make it in to his event where he will talk about the second book of the Leviathan series, Behemoth. I really wanted to read this before his talk so that I won’t be completely lost!
I think Leviathan is a great introduction to steampunk. The novel reads really fast and has a compelling storyline that feels familiar since the events in the book roughly follow WWI. Alek and Deryn are both likeable characters that are struggling with their place in the world. Alek is a prince without a throne and Deryn is a girl that desperately wants to be seen as an equal. Together they form an alliance that quite possibly is not what their respective parties want. In this first book in the series, a good portion of the time is spent exploring their individual stories so I got a good feel for them as characters and what motivated them. Neither of them have the typical teenage angst that can weigh so heavily in some books. They are truly characters of their situations—thrust into very stressful situations and they show their strength of character throughout.
I also loved the world. I think I’m addicted to steampunk now! I especially like the way Westerfeld made the novel as a clash between Clankers v. Beasties. The Leviathan is simply awesome. The description of it was vivid—I felt like I could see and smell everything that went on in that giant ship. The illustrations by Keith Thompson add so much to the novel as well. They are simply beautiful drawings and lend such description to the scenes. A picture truly is worth a thousand words in this book. Being that it is my first foray into the genre, I found the artwork helped me imagine what the world was like—what the ships and land machines looked like. The novel is a clash between two types of technologies which are each unique and well thought out.
At the end of the novel, Scott Westerfeld writes an Afterword about the historical period and what artistic license he took with the history of WWI. These last few pages made the book more interesting to me and made me want to read more on The Great War. I will warn you that the book doesn’t really have a true ending so you will most likely want to run out and buy Behemoth after you finish. For parents who want their pre-teens and teens to show more interest in history class, this is a great novel to pick up and read. I also think this is a good novel for people wanting to expose themselves to steampunk without getting bogged down in complicated explanations of technology that might exist in adult novels. It’s a quick read, plot driven, and kept me turning the pages. I feel a little less intimidated by steampunk and look forward to reading Behemoth and further exploring the genre.
Links of Note
Samples of the illustrations in Leviathan
Scott Westerfeld’s Webpage
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I read this book for the Steampunk Challenge.