Leviathan
Scot Westerfield
2009
BBYA (Best Book for Young Adults, ALA)

Leviathan is a fun, quick read. To me, it reads like a summer Blockbuster movie: lots of action, suspense, special effects… not so much character development. That being said, there are some worthwhile issues that can be pulled from this novel and discussed, should you so choose.

Leviathan is a “steampunk” novel, a relatively new subgenre of the fantasy realm in which iron-clad, steam-powered machines are blended into alternate histories (usually Victorian time periods). Think: HG Wells modernized. This was my first foray into steampunk, so I’m not sure how Leviathan holds up compared to its peers.

Janie, over at Redeemed Reader, as written an excellent post about both Leviathan and Behemoth. I’ll not go into the same details here, so skip on over there if you’d like more info. Here’s my short version:

Leviathan begins at the onset of WWI with the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire (Alek) fleeing in the middle of the night after his parents are murdered. Along with his few trusted guides/friends, he arrives in Switzerland and is ready to hole up for a while, undercover.

Deryn, (a Scot!) aka Dylan, is styling herself as a boy in order to be allowed passage on Leviathan as part of the British Air Force. To keep up appearances, she swaggers, swears like a sailor, and tries to act tough.

What makes all this more interesting is that the Germans are now the “Clankers,” and the Brits are now the “Darwinists.” Clanker technology has given Germany and their allies massive iron-clad, steam-powered machines that can shoot millions of bullets, obliterate whatever comes in their path, and be driven from the inside by a team of men. They range in size/ability from the Stormwalker Alek drives (holds ~6 people and walks upright on two jerky “legs”) to the giant land yacht called a Dreadnought. Zeppelins roam the skies.

The Darwinists, on the other hand, have figured out a way to splice various desirable life forms/threads together to fabricate new strange beasts. These range from message lizards to flying jellyfish creatures called Huxleys to the great Leviathan itself. Leviathan is part whale, part glow worm, part a million other creatures. It is air borne, held aloft by hydrogen.

Leviathan is on its clandestine way to the Ottoman Empire, transporting one Dr. Barlow and her precious cargo of mysterious eggs that are about to hatch. En route, they get shot down on a glacier in Switzerland not far from… you guessed it… Alek. Soon enough, the giant beached (or glaciered?) whale is discovered by the Clankers, Alek and Deryn/Dylan team up, and we’re left with a new adventure about to the begin (I’ve not read Behemoth yet). Add to this the drawings that show the fantastic mechanical and biological creatures and you’ve got a quick, entertaining read.

Check it out for a fun summer read!

Things to Note/Discuss

  • Megan and I’ve noticed, to our chagrin, that many series start out promisingly enough, but end in disaster, bring on sexual issues not present in the first, or just derail in quality overall. So, no promises, folks, about the future of this series!
  • Deryn, in her guise as boy, swears ALL the time! Most of her swear words are obscure fabrications of Westerfield, I believe–meant to sound vaguely British and WWI era. However, some of her favorite phrases (such as “barking spiders”) sound awfully similar to phrases I do not relish (“freakin” and it’s other, more repulsive, sibling come to mind). I don’t think kids will pick these up as much, but it’s worth noting. Alek, as Janie mentioned in her post, uses the phrase “God’s wounds” a few times as well.
  • Issues that you could discuss are numerous, including the following: mechanical warfare v. biological warfare, genetic manipulation of species, warfare and loyalty in general, mixing biology with machines (Terminator anyone?), standing for what you believe in at great personal risk, survival issues, etc.
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