As someone whose been reading Westerfeld’s novels since she was young, it’s always nice to get a new installation from him. This novel though, I was a bit apprehensive about, and even up until the last few weeks before it’s release I was unexcited for it to on the shelves, and generally disappointed that he hadn’t done something less,well, ridiculous sounding. I quickly changed my mind upon reading the book, and I’m pretty sure it’s because Westerfeld wanted his fans to get to know a different part of him, and the outcome was entirely worth it.
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld is an ode to steampunk in every form. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the steampunk movement it’s a relatively underground subculture of science fiction in which victorian age technology is advanced significantly while still running on steam. In steampunk novels you can find flying boats, massive walking battle ships, and mecha’s that remind the nerd in us all of Gundam,only instead of having force fields that stop bullets, these robots are breakable, and tough to operate. However, Westerfeld’s version of steampunk is a fantasized one. He puts the steampunk machines side by side with fantasical created creatures, that are amalgamations of different sorts of creatures, aptly called fabricated beasts. Some of the animals that the people have created are beasts what have been feared through time, like the Kraken, and others are machine-like in origin, like the Leviathan, which is an airship made from hundreds of different beasts.
This book is one of ones that I’ve had the most fun reading this year. It’s a genuine good time, despite the occasional dark moments, and it holds the beginnings of a good love story. Set in 1914, the action begins immediately as you meet Alek, the last in line to the Austrian throne, but unable to claim it, and Deryn, a female who yearns to be an airship pilot, but lacks the gender to achieve her goal. From the start you can tell their cultures are more than just different.
Alek plays at war between the Austro-Hungarian empire and the French and British infantry, and talks of “diesel-powered walking machines”(1) and “Darwinist monsters” being their respective armies. While Deryn gets her brothers help in changing her appearance so she can pass as a boy, and take the airman’s test. she refers to the “Darwinist monsters” of Alek’s war by their proper names, and even knows how they were created. She does however refer to Alek’s machines as “Clankers” more often than not. In an act of God, or just Westerfeld’s pen strokes, the two meet, and their cultures are forced to clash in more than one way. I won’t give away the story, but know this, the Behemoth, the second book in this series, has been cracked, and there is so much more to come in this series, and Westerfeld hasn’t lost an iota of his touch.