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on 14 November 2009
Scott Westerfeld already has one amazing world he created, the sci-fi world of his Uglies series, and now he's gone ahead and made a world that's even cooler. Not only is this an excellent alternate history or steampunk book, but it's filled with absolutely stunning illustrations by artist Keith Thompson, though unfortunately the UK version doesn't have them. Boo!

Scott Westerfeld does an excellent, succinct job of summarizing his world in a short interview he did on John Scalzi's blog, Whatever. He states, "In the world of Leviathan, technology has split into two tribes: the Germanic Clankers, who are machine lovers, and the British-led Darwinists, who weave the life-threads of natural creatures into fabricated beasts. (To put it simply, in this world, Origins of Species was an instruction manual.)" In this book, there are tidbits of actual history, strange creatures, amazing technology, strong characters, and a truly original setting.

Alek is the son of the Austrian-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. His parents have been assassinated (though in a slightly different manner than actually happened in history.) His son, though he is unable to inherit his father's role because his mother was not of royal enough blood, is on the run for his life along with some bodyguards that I imagine look and sound like Arnold Schwarznegger. Deryn is a young Scottish girl who desperately wants to join the air force. She ends up joining and cross-dressing as a man to do so. I love me some crossdressing in novels, and this works really well.

Eventually, of course, Deryn and Alek end up meeting in a strange turn of events and begin to grow close despite being on opposite sides of a brewing war. They both must re-evaluate their prejudices about the other and have interesting debates about nature vs machines. I also enjoy that they both keep a secret - one is royalty and one is a girl. I won't go into too many plot points because I'm wary of spoilers, but is is definitely an excellent book by one of my favourite young adult authors. I appreciate it when those writing for a younger audience make it fun, but sneak in good life lessons and values. Westerfeld wrote an afterward clearing up was was history and what was fantasy for readers not familiar with WWI. This is one of my favourite reads of the year.
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on 15 October 2010
Fun fun fun fun fun--

Oh, an actual review. Well. It's got a girl pretending to be a boy in the British military (on a living airship) and a prince who rides around in a mecha-like contraption and it's fake WW1 with different tech and and I adored it.

It's a fairly straightforward plot: the Clankers (roughly corresponding to the Germans, Austro-Hungarians et al of WW1) and the Darwinists (Brits, French, Russians, etc) are on the brink of war. The former have steampunk tech while the latter have DNA-tweaked beasties large and small. The infamous assassination in Sarajevo sends Prince Aleksander, the not-quite-heir of Austro-Hungaria, on the run, while a female Darwinist scientist is on a top-secret mission to Istanbul on the same living airship as Deryn-dressed-as-Dylan. Their paths cross. It's also quite a small, incomplete plot, to be continued in book 2, but it's great fun all the way through. With accompanying illustrations!

Scientists are called boffins, the aforementioned female one has a pet thylacine, there are jellyfish-like floating beasties that the British use as surveillance balloons, there are messenger lizards, there's a kraken cameo, there are large eight-legged mecha as well as Alek's two-legged one, Deryn is marvellous. I adore the girl-dresses-as-boy trope with abandon and Deryn doesn't disappoint. She's reckless and brave and throws herself off the airship at one point (with some rope) to save her fellow crewmen and holds someone hostage at knifepoint and complains loudly that she's lost her razor as part of a gambit to keep everyone convinced she's really a boy.

Fun! =D

I should add that I was amazed when I found out the author's not English. The way he repeated only a handful of Scottish words made me suspect he wasn't Scottish, because it felt a bit off at times, but he wrote all the British characters so well - so absent of any tally-ho old chap stiff upper lip sirrah stupidity - I thought surely he's British. Nope! I tip my hat to you, sir.

If you are partial to good YA, I recommend this one. I rarely finish a book grinning with joy.
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LEVIATHAN is a novel of alternate history. More specifically, it can be classified as steampunk, which depending on what definition you read, is an extension of science fiction and fantasy. Westerfeld decides to reinvent the era of World War I in his latest novel. While he maintains some of the actual events of the war, he creates and alters many.

The story follows the lives of Deryn and Alek. Deryn is a young woman desperate to join the Air Men of the Darwinists Army (British Empire/France). With the help of her brother, she disguises herself as a boy and joins the fight. She has excellent Air Sense, which is a must for the Darwinists, since their main type of weaponry are flying airships made of living animals, with each animal in the ecosystem playing its part. The Leviathan is an airship made up of a countless number of animals - from the smallest microscopic animal to a giant whale that contains everything.

Alek's parents, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, have been assassinated, leaving Alek on the run for his life. The Austro-Hungarian Empire/Germany wants him dead in order to ensure the end of the bloodline to the throne. Alek's people are referred to as the Clankers because of the loud noises that come from their form of weaponry - swords, cannons, aeroplanes, and, most exciting, walkers. Picture a huge tank with legs instead of treads.

Both Deryn and Alek are dedicated to their causes, and when they are thrust into the same fight and forced to work together, both must take a look at the world around them and see things from the other's perspective.

The ending really leaves the reader hanging, and not necessarily in a good way. I felt like it cut off right when we needed some important information, but I guess Westerfeld is leaving that for the sequel.

The book contains several beautiful black-and-white illustrations by Keith Thompson. I really enjoyed coming across those throughout the story.

Even though LEVIATHAN took me a while to get through, I still enjoyed it and look forward to the sequel.

Reviewed by: Karin Librarian
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on 25 May 2011
I bought this for my boyfriend, he'd added it to his wishlist (thinking it was a graphic novel), he really enjoyed reading it. Suitable for all ages apparently and fantastic illustrations.
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on 1 December 2009
Just finished it this weekend there, very enjoyable book indeed, can't wait for the next part in the series, and i hope there are many more.

I love alternative history type novels, and this one is pure steampunk - meshing old and new, during the first world war era, Darwinist living Creations and Clanker Steam Engines battle it out, with two young protaganists caught in the middle, great following how they both meet, and how they react to each other, their different backgrounds bringing them together.

Great illustrations throughout too just add to the enjoyment of the story.
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on 29 April 2013
Set within an alternate Europe this supremely singular story re-tells the war with machines and genetically-engineered beasts from outer space. Fifteen-year-old Prince Alek (Austrian) is on the run from Clanker Powers, who are attempting to take over the world. Forming an uneasy alliance with Deryn, who disguised as a boy to join the British Air force, learns to fly these mechanical beasts. Whilst exposing themselves to extreme danger the outcast Prince and the commoner face the enemy head-on, with courage and such bravery as to warm the heart.

This inspiring tale of true heroism is very touching and which contains such meaningful connotation within. Scott Westerfield is a fantastic author, who is also author of bestselling Young Adult novel `Uglies' and who writes in such a fluid, readable way.

The beautiful cover and the exquisite hand-drawn illustrations within this book are what make it so distinctive, and something which you will want to treasure. The drawings combined with the detailed descriptions help to bring this story vividly to life, with inspired imagery adding such realism and atmosphere that is tangible. Like nothing I have encountered before this astonishing, mind-blowing creation of such individuality and flair is very special and which certainly appeals to readers of sci-fi and YA genres. Exciting and fast-paced this action/ adventure is so intense I will warn you that you may end up perched on the edge of your seat throughout.

A really enjoyable, fun read which I would highly recommend to all looking for a thrilling tale filled with mechanical robots and danger!
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on 12 October 2011
1914 Europe is on the brink of war and 15 year old Austrian Prince Alek is on the run from the same Clankers (allies who use steam-powered machinery) who killed his parents for no other reason than to incite this war. Meanwhile, the Darwinist Brits running the Leviathan, a massive hybrid flying beast ship, run into a little trouble of their own with the Clankers whilst on their way to try to make peace before war can begin. The story follows the perspectives of both Alek and Deryn, a girl who loves nothing more than flying and had to disguise herself as a boy to be able to join the British Air Service to even be considered entry.

What Leviathan attempts to do is to combine old boyish adventure stories with more modern ideals to make the story appealing to both genders whilst using a steampunk theme, and it does this perfectly. It is an utterly imaginative, high-speed tale that will have you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. It literally doesn't stop. And the combining of the two stories, that of Alek and that of Deryn, come together so fluidly you can't fault it. Each character is given two chapters in turn which keeps the flow.

The pictures sprinkled throughout the book add to the overall feel of the novel really well, adding visualisation where description might be lacking, as well as a more alternate 1914 atmosphere. I found myself inspecting the pictures as more than just images to accompany the words because they are as much a part of Leviathan as the story itself and they're so fantastic. The cover pictured in this post features a full colour version of one of the images from the book. This is a much newer cover recently released by Simon & Schuster and I absolutely love it, I think it's gorgeous.

Scott's reinvention of World War One Europe is, in my mind, absolute genius. While I was interested in the Clanker's very steampunkesque lifestyle and weaponry, using a vast array of Walkers which were impressive on their own, I was completely amazed by the idea of the Darwinists. Fabricated beasts bio-engineered for use as airships, weapons, and all sorts of crazy things, including the message lizards which record a message and then run off to play back the message in the person's voice just like a tape recorder.. it actually reminded me a little of the Flintstones. I found the entire concept of Darwinists versus Clankers fantastic, and the more you read, the more you realise that yes, these were the allies. The afterword is also worth a read as it explains the true history Leviathan was based upon and I think this quote sums steampunk up very nicely: "That's the nature of steampunk, blending future and past."

I think Leviathan may perhaps be a little too young for my usual tastes. Though I appreciated everything about it and I couldn't find fault in the story as a whole, I found myself wishing towards the end that it might slow down a little bit. I like a breather in my books to allow for conversation between characters and intrigue to develop, but that's just me. As a kid's book Leviathan is brilliant.

I believe that this book should be a must read for all kids around the age of 10, though by no means would I suggest anybody much older than this age avoid it because it is such a fun and beautiful novel, if you haven't read Leviathan yet, you really should. It is a wonderful introduction to steampunk and a fully enjoyable read.
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The year is 1914, and the world is teetering on the edge of a massive war. On one side is the British and French with their Darwinist "beasties," and on the other are the Austrians and Germans with their steampunk "clankers." This is the brilliant backdrop behind Scott Westerfeld's "Leviathan," a richly imagined fantasy story about two very different teenagers, a vast living airship, and a horde of invading German walkers.

One night while his parents are away, Alek is pulled out to practice his Stormwalker skills -- only to find that his tutors are actually smuggling him out of Austria to Switzerland. His father the archduke has been assassinated, and all of Austria and Germany wants Alek dead. His only hope is for a Stormwalker and a small band of loyal men to smuggle him into Switzerland.

In England, a young Scottish tomboy named Deryn Sharp wants to join the Air Corps... except they don't allow girls in. Disguised as a boy and renamed "Dylan," she joins the British air forces -- and after a freak accident with a floating hydrogen-breather, she finds herself on the vast floating ecosystem known as the Leviathan, the British Empire's greatest airship. And as their newest middy, she ends up being the personal cabin boy to the mildly odd Dr. Nora Barlow and her secret cargo.

But when the Leviathan is shot down by German planes, it crash lands on a Swiss glacier... right near where Alek and his men are hiding. And when Alek goes to take them medical supplies, he finds himself taken prisoner by Deryn -- especially since it's obvious he's hiding who he really is. Now both the Clankers and Darwinists must reluctantly join forces -- because if they don't, they'll never escape the approaching German walkers.

Steampunk weapons, exploding walkers, icy glaciers, political subterfuge, a snow-encrusted castle, and a giant living ship filled with talking lizards and metal-munching bats. Not many authors could pull off such a brilliantly wonky book as "Leviathan," and while the set-up of the floating whale-airship is a little far-fetched (how do those messenger animals work again?), Westerfeld manages to spin up a truly brilliant fantasy story.

The first half of the story is split between Deryn and Alek's respective journeys, one a grimy desperate quest across Austria, and one a lighter story about taking to the skies. But the plot really takes off when the Leviathan crashes next to Alek's castle, and from there the story becomes all about the uneasy alliance between the refugee Austrians and the desperate British.

And Westerfeld sprinkles the story with plenty of plot twists, mysteries and political plots within the Hapsberg family, as well as the contempt that both Clankers and Darwinists have for each other's machines (including "ungodly"). There's also a healthy dose of fiery action -- lots of explosions, machine gunning, zeppelins erupting into flames, and lots of other fun stuff.

But the real focus is on Alek and Deryn, and their friendship, which might end up turning into something more. They're likable characters with realistic flaws -- Alek can be a bit stuck-up, but he's generous and selfless; Deryn can be reckless in a tough situation, but she's also loyal, smart and skilled. And Westerfeld fleshes out the cast with some excellent supporting character, such as the stressed-out Klopp and Volger, or the intelligent and mysterious Dr. Barlow.

Scott Westerfeld's steampunk debut is a richly-imagined, well-written story that leaves the door wide open for a sequel, and leaves you hungry for whatever Alek and Deryn encounter next. A brilliant book.
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I'm still a bit excited about Leviathan, so I'm going to have to begin by saying that I loved it. It really is an accomplishment, and as a first time reader of Westerfeld, I think I picked the right book to start with. It's lavishly illustrated by Keith Thompson, and some of the images are just amazing. They make the world come to life, and complement the writing brilliantly.

It's been quite a while since I've been so drawn to a story, but Westerfeld effortlessly pulled me in with his tale of Clanker machines and Darwinist fabricated species. I've never read steampunk before, but now that I have, I get why it's such a popular genre. There's so much scope and history to play with, not to mention the fantastical inventions and machinery that are woven into real events and important moments in world history.

Alek and Deryn are two very different teenagers, thrown together during the First World War. Alek's a reluctant heir to an empire, while Deryn is masquerading as a boy just so she can fly in the British Air Service. Both are headstrong, brave and determined, and both are instrumental in the outcome of the war. I must admit that I enjoyed Alek's narrative more than Deryn's. It flowed easier, and his journey across the country was marginally more interesting than her time aboard the Leviathan aircraft. Westerfeld's decision to tell two stories from two perspectives was quite a genius move -- when you have characters that good, there's never a doubt that they can hold their own.

The action in Leviathan is non-stop, with one threat or another always lurking around the corner. Whether it be German Clanker machines hot on their tail, or the fear of being kicked out of the air service, things are never quiet for Alek and Deryn, and they never take anything lightly. I honestly can't think of a better introduction to Scott Westerfeld, and all I'm wondering is: when can I get my hands on a copy of Behemoth?
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on 27 October 2009
Steampunk is definitely "in" today, gearing its way into fashion, comics, TV-land, bar-scenes, and, not least, YA fiction. This book is a prime example, set in 1914 and the start of the Great War, where history has taken a left turn to the development of not just steam-powered vehicles of war, but also to great advances in genetics, based on the studies of Darwin, who in this world took his original concepts much further that ours, leading to the development of large numbers of very strange beasties. The divide between the great European powers thus becomes the war between the Darwinists and the Clankers.

Our two protagonists couldn't be more different. Deryn is a young girl who definitely knows that she wants to be part of the British Air Force, riding the great hydrogen-filled animals that dwarf the conventional zeppelins, and works hard to fulfill that dream by not just disguising her sex (of course women are not allowed in such jobs in Victorian England!), but working diligently at both the academics of aerodynamics and navigation and carefully studying and mimicking the attitudes, walks, and speech patterns of the men around her. Alek is the son of Archduke Ferdinand, somewhat spoiled by having everything that riches can buy but who has also been carefully trained in the niceties of court politics and traditional fighting techniques, who suddenly has the rug jerked from beneath the fabric of his life when his parents are assassinated, and having to find out just what he truly believes in and what his goals in life are while on the run from forces intent on eliminating the last potential heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne (shades of Paul Atreides, anyone?).

While it's obvious from the start that these two people will eventually meet, there's plenty of suspense and good old-fashioned action, with a couple of aerial battles that do much to highlight both the pluses and minuses of the competing technologies. Westerfeld does not neglect his side characters during all of this, drawing very competent pictures of a certain `boffin' (scientist) and an old hard-line Count. And there are marvelous illustrations by Keith Thompson throughout this book that give the reader concrete visualizations of the action, beasties, and machines.

Also not neglected are the inherent problems of class-dominated societies. While this aspect of the portrayed world is not dwelled upon to excess, it definitely shows in the attitudes and thoughts of all the characters, and forms a sub-text to the maturation of both Deryn and Alek.

The ending is a little weak, seeming to just stop in the middle of the story, but I can't consider this too great a negative, as this is always something of problem with planned multi-book stories. But the rest of the story better appear soon; after this first taste, I'm hungry for more.

---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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