Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

There's steampunk, which I'm a huge fan of. And then there's Scott Westerfield's steampunk. His unique twist on the somewhat overlooked genre might sound strange to some: an alternate history of WWI involving giant robot machines and flying whales used as airships? But Westerfeld pulls these elements with precision, flair and and a surprising amount of authenticity that I was sucked into the story from the first page.

Synopsis from Goodreads: Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, 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 World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

Setting aside (which is only added to by the incredible artistry of Keith Thompson - see picture below), this young adult novel was action packed enough to keep me turning the page after every chapter. The writing is fairly simple, making it lower YA, or upper MG, but I could not put this book down and read it in one sitting. Being set at the beginning of WWI the amount of action is necessary as the two young main characters are dragged into the war. It also feels like a fairly realistic representation of wartime (despite the floating whale) as the characters face death and danger at every turn.

It is the characters and the growth that Alek in particular goes through, that is the real drawcard of this novel. Alek, the Austrian-Hungarian son of the assassinated Duke (for those of you who know your history, that's the assassination that started it all) has to overcome both the death of his parents, his sudden exile, and a war that he's been thrust into. It's very much a tale of boy-becomes-man, although with a second book out and a third on the way, it's apparent that Alek still has a huge amount of growing up to do.

British Deryn, a girl who's disguised herself as a boy to get into the Air Service, is a strong character herself, but my only complaint (and there really are no other complaints about this novel from me) is that she didn't contrast enough with Alek for me. The novel really builds up to these two characters meeting, and I found myself wanting to rush through the beginning of the book to see them interact. But their personality traits seemed similar at times and despite their cultural differences, I couldn't help but feel that they could have been better distinguished from one another. Even so, Deryn is a strong female character and everything in her 3rd person POV was just as enjoyable to read as the parts in Alek's.

The novel managed to finish with a bit of a cliff-hanger that implies a second novel is on its way (and thankfully #2, Behemoth is out now), yet still allowed me to feel that the book was complete in itself. I'll be hunting down a copy of Behemoth a.s.a.p.

9 out of 10 from me. A must read.

WritersBlockNZ's Verdict: 9/10



Dawn Embers said...

Great review. I've actually never read a steampunk book that I know of, at least. But I had to get this one. As soon as I saw one of the characters is a girl who pretends to be a boy, I knew I had to buy it. So, I plan to read the book for that character in particular.

L'Aussie said...

You know JJ I really don't understand what steampunk is. I've asked other bloggers but can't get a satisfying answer. Is it a story about a certain era of ships? Please tell.

Great review and the image works well.


Dawn Embers said...

Oh oh... i can kind of answer this but also if you go to the podcast "Writing Excuses" and find the episode where the author of this book because he speaks a better answer. And it was how I found out my fantasy idea is not steampunk.

The basics are: it is a story set in a specific time period, that is true, but it's also alternative history. It takes things it that time frame, during the years of "steam power" (thus the title steam punk) and make changes. They can also add fantasy elements but the big key is the time period and that it has alternative history.

Hope I did that right, but anyone is free to correct me.

L'Aussie said...

Thanks Dawn. I follow some bloggers who are so into steampunk and it does sound fascinating. Another style to experiment with!

JJ's book review has really got me interested.

Denise :)

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