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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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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 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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on 28 March 2015
Steampunk classic with steam machines pitted against fabricated beasts representing opposing forces in an alternative history of world war 1. First in a trilogy of books all of which are intriging and page turners. Loved it and ordered the follow up books, Behemoth and Goliath. Great characters, machines and beasts. Would recommend to anyone who likes the steampunk genre
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on 25 June 2015
I only recently discovered Scott Westerfeld with the Uglies trilogy which I greately enjoyed. The Leviathan trilogy is even better.
Beautifully written, strong caracthers and just an amazing immagination and scenarios! And I am well past my teens!
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on 4 March 2013
Not the heavy duty philosophy of Thomas Hobbes but a Steampunk 1st world war alternative history - Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated in Sarajevo - but in our world he never had a son, not even one hated by Emperor Franz Josef, or hunted by his German allies. The Great War starts between Germany and Austria-Hungary on one side and France, Russia and Britain on the other. But the Central Powers have advanced mechanised technology - armoured walking dreadnoughts roam the landscape - while Britain and her allies have manipulated the DNA of living creatures to fabricate organisms like Leviathan - a flying whale, with a crew of 100 including Mr Midshipman Sharp (who would not pass the medical) and Charles Darwin's daughter with her pet thylacine, Tazza.

I tore through this imaginative, well-written book, and before I realised it, I had to buy book two in the series...
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on 26 August 2011
This is a rollicking alternate take on the First World War, and Westerfeld has populated his world with fascinating characters to go with his funky tech ideas.

In this universe, it seems as if the conflict will be between the Clankers, with their diesel-driven walkers and zeppelins, and the Darwinians with their genetically engineered beasts. The usual political reasons for the war are in place as well, but the differing approaches to war machines really help the sides to stand out.

We have two protagonists; the first is the orphaned son of Franz Ferdinand, the second a Scottish girl masquerading as a boy within the Air Force. Their voices are distinct, their situations opposing enough to be equally exciting.

The Leviathan of the title, a vast living airship, is a great setting, and while this is obviously an introductory adventure, the world Westerfeld has created is fascinating enough to power a dozen such books.
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on 10 January 2014
I wasnt sure about this book when i started reading it but i became engrossed and couldnt put it down. Its a mix between darwinism and steam punk, very enjoyable and i would recommend you give it a try.
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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 4 September 2013
From the opening, Scott Westerfield's Leviathan offers cinematic action, tight dialogue and a sweeping saga of a world warped by a strange war. The Germans' `clanker' machines are so realistic, it's hard to categorise this extraordinary book as `steam punk'. Their enemies, the British-led Darwinists, have meddled with nature, as real beasts transmogrify into living fabrications to suit the needs of man. The result is a war in an alternative 1914 that can only end badly.

Westerfield is a master at penetrating the adolescent mind, and his young heroes and heroines are so convincing, you can hear them speak in your head as you read. I particularly loved Deryn, the young Scottish girl who wangles her way into the air force. With her Amy Pond-style feistiness, young actresses from north of the border would kill for a role like this. Her kindred spirit from the opposing side is Alex - and he, too, has star quality as he quickly has to come to terms with loss.

The writing is masterful: direct, muscled, vivid. This powerful novel (and yes, it is a novel) is the first in a tour de force series that proves that teen literature isn't just for teens. As if all this weren't enough, the darkly menacing and atmospheric illustrations by Keith Thompson clinch the deal. At home, we gobbled up Leviathan, followed by Behemoth and now we're fighting over Goliath with greater urgency than when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out.

Leviathan. It's big.
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