February 11, 2011

review: leviathan

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry. The Leviathan is a living airship, the most formidable airbeast in the skies of Europe.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battle-torn Stormwalker and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With the Great War brewing, Alek's and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way - taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure. One that will change both their lives forever.


Leviathan is an action packed adventure that takes place in an alternate history, at the beginning of the Great War. Instead of war raging between the Central Powers and the Allies, the two opposing sides are the Darwinists and the Clankers. Novels with war as their main focus are not my usual forte, but I had heard excellent things about Leviathan and read it anyway. I'm glad I did. I couldn't put the book down. After reading, I'm a Clanker at heart; no doubt about that.

I had two problems with the book. The novel starts out assuming you know terminology of this fictional world, throwing terms and slang around with no explanation whatsoever, making the first few chapters of the book rather confusing for someone unfamiliar with the words. My second problem was with the practices of the Darwinists. I'm no animal activist, but the treatment of the fabricated animals bothered me, even disgusted me at times. I had no problem whatsoever with the animals themselves (I found them rather fascinating), but some of the ways in which they were used would make PETA throw a fit. For a third problem, which wasn't really much of a problem, the book is told from two point of views, switching every two chapters. Once I was comfortable in the skin of one character, the POV switched to the other.

Even being a militaristic novel, the book didn't bog me down with too much terminology, once I understood what they were referring to. Most of the Darwinist military terms were easily understood, being basic naval and aeronautic phrases. The Clanker terminology took a little longer to understand, and for the longest time, I was confused by the term piloting not being used aeronautically.

The two main characters, Alek and Deryn, are engaging and very different. Alek was raised in a royal household and has the airs of a spoiled, pompous prince. Deryn is crass and full of swagger, being a girl disguised as a midshipman through the course of the novel. Both characters are in danger, both from the war and from their own secrets. Alek can tell no one he is the son of the assassinated Austro-Hungarian Archduke, and Deryn can tell no one she is actually a girl. Alek would be captured for ransom or killed, and Deryn would be cast from her home on the Leviathan airship. In Leviathan, there is the subtle hint that a romance may arise between them, but how can it with the secrets between them? The other characters in the novel are just as colorful, especially Dr. Barlow, a Darwinist aboard the Leviathan on route to the Ottomon Empire. Of the secondary characters, she is easily my favorite.

The plot itself is engaging and suspenseful. There is no way to know what happens next, and I caught myself holding my breath several times in some of the more exciting scenes.

When it comes down to it, I loved the book. I'll be reading the sequel Behemoth in a few months.

Reading level: Young Adult 
Format: Paperback, 464 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse

Rating:  ★★★★☆

No comments:

Post a Comment