Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld is my first steampunk read. When I picked up the book with its shiny elaborate gears on the cover I knew I was in for a different type of story than my usual science fiction reads. Steampunk, at least traditional steampunk, falls under the science fiction category of alternate history.  And in the case of steampunk that means an alternate Victorian era history.

In short, Leviathan is about two teenage characters on opposites sides during World War One (1914-1918).* Deryn, wishing to serve in his majesty’s military, disguises herself as a boy and changes her name to Dylan. She becomes part of the crew on a the Leviathan, a huge genetically engineered hydrogen whale capable of flight - a new twist on the dirigible.** Alek is the fictional son of Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, whose assassination sparked WWI.*** Alek must flee for his life and evades capture by traveling in mechanical bi-pedal “tanks” known as walkers.

Darwinists (Allies)

-What they make: beasties (like the Leviathan)

 -How they make them: DNA manipulation and incubation period

-Maintenance requirements: organic food supply and healing time

Clankers (Axis)

-What they make: gadgets and machines (like walkers)

-How they make them: gears and pistons

-Maintenance requirements: oil supply and spare parts

    Westerfeld creates a fantastic world with its bizarre creatures and machines. I enjoyed reading to see how these creations helped and hindered Dylan and Alek. There is a fair amount of suspense and quite a bit of action and violence. Dylan and Alek are faced with uneasy decisions which ask them to handle grown up situations. There are a slew of interesting characters to help them along the way. My only complaint is with the totally abrupt ending. I enjoy series and do not mind waiting to read the next book to find out what happens but Leviathan’s ending left me going “Really, that’s the ‘end’?” If you’re a one-and-done sort of reader this book may not be for you. I, however, will be putting the sequel Behemoth on my TBR list.

    Publisher: Simon Pulse, 2009     Pages: 338
    Rating: 3.5 Stars     Source: Public Library

    *While technically the Victorian period ends with Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, many consider the Victorian age to last a decade or two longer calling it, no surprise, the “Long Victorian Era,” therefore including WWI.

    **Steampunk revels in dirigibles.

    *** In reality, Ferdinand did have a son, Max. He and his sisters were exiled after the assassination.


    1. It was my first steampunk too - and I also enjoyed it. I was lucky enough to buy both as a set so I'm already sneaking into Behemoth (when I should be doing homework!). Good read.

    2. I thought Leviathan was so much fun! Your Clankers vs. Darwinists chart is such a great at-a-glance tool for people who aren't familiar with the book yet. I'm ready to start Behemoth!

    3. Thanks, ladies! Let me know how you like Behemoth!