I’ve always had a penchant for beautiful books. Beautiful writing, beautiful illustrations, etc. In this case I was absolutely NOT disappointed.
I’ve had Scott Westerfeld’s “Uglies” series in my TBR pile for quite some time. After I moved to Arizona, they were lovingly boxed and are still in my storage unit. I turned my attention to the books I DON’T have in storage and the books I stumble across in used bookstores.
I found a copy of Westerfeld’s Leviathan on Saturday. I’d finished it by Sunday night. All 440 pages of it. What Ellen Hopkins does for verse novels, Westerfeld does for Steampunk. I’m officially in love with it.
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Simon Pulse, 2009
This is one of those covers that begs to be touched. It’s rich and dark and steely. I couldn’t keep my hands off it. And when you open the book, the inside cover presents you with this:
“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. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.
“Aleksander 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.”
See more of the delicious artwork (by Keith Thompson) on Westerfeld’s website.
Other cover art:
And, not to be missed, the sequel, Behemoth:
Ok. Here goes:
Strengths: This book is like your favorite food; you want to wolf it down but know you need to savor it. I wanted to sink my teeth into it and devour it. Westerfeld creates his alternate reality, Steampunk vision of WWI in epic proportions. Meticulously detailed, the two main plotlines converge upon each other without losing their individual character and strengths. Seamless melding creates an even richer narrative, aided by Keith Thompson’s outstanding illustrations. It’s visually sumptuous. [As an aside here, I’d label this as a hybrid novel–your experience of the book is critically dependent upon the illustrations, but it’s FAR from being a picture book.] Alek shines as a flawed and impetuous youth forced to become a man by circumstances wholly beyond his control. Deryn is a spunky, edgy heroine with more courage than most of the men with whom she serves on the Leviathan.
Readers will find the world of the Clankers and the Darwinists irretrievably interesting. Fans of Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars will be intrigued by the mechanical war machines of the Clankers. The creations of the Darwinists, or “beasties,” as they are frequently referred to, pull the ideas of the present day back into a bygone era. Further, the historical timelines of this period remain largely intact; the war is in fact started with the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and the alliances of the different powers mirror the reality. As fantastic as the ideas are (particularly with the notion of the whale-ship Leviathan as a floating ecosystem), anyone who picks this book up will be sucked in. Westerfeld combines historical accuracy and utter fantasy with amazing skill.
Skillfully written and richly envisioned, with effortless flow, particularly in action scenes.
Potential Flaws: I’d have to be reaching to find much wrong with this book. On a superficial level, I’ll say I prefer the 2009 cover art to the new art which is designed to match Behemoth. The new art makes me want to go watch Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
The only hiccup in my reading dealt with the age of the characters. Throughout the book, despite being told the age of the hero and heroine (15-16), I simply could not see them at that age. It seemed more appropriate to view them as younger, perhaps aided by Thompson’s illustrations. I was quite happy to envision them as younger, so much so that when Deryn begins to react differently to Alek, I was knocked a bit askew. Call it a continuity problem. To me, this was the only wrinkle in an otherwise outstanding tale.
I know. I’m reaching.
Rich and gritty at times, solidly constructed on a fascinating premise, and full of believable characters. A delightful balance between fantasy and reality and Steampunk.