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Leviathan Hardcover – 1 Sep 2009
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Two Imperial forces meet, one built with steam and the other built with DNA, producing rich, vivid descriptions of the technologies that divide a continent. The setting begs comparisons to Hayao Miyazaki, Kenneth Oppel and Naomi Novik, but this work will stand -- or fly -- on its own.
--Starred Review in Kirkus Reviews, September 2009
About the Author
'YA's hippest author' Scott Westerfeld is the author of the hugely popular Uglies series. As well as the Midnighters series and three stand alone YA novels, he has written five science fiction novels for adults. He and his wife, Justine, divide their time between Sydney and New York.
Top customer reviews
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.
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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