Thursday, September 2, 2010

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

My second crack at Steampunk and I have to admit that I'm pleasantly surprised by this subgenre of science fiction.
Leviathan is an alternate history of the beginnings of World War I and is set in Austria during the summer of 1914. Aleksandr is the fictional son of the Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. When the Archduke and his wife, Sophie Choteck are poisoned on June 28, the stage is set for Austria to declare war on Serbia.
Alek knows nothing of this until his tutor, Wildcount Volger and his master of mechaniks, Otto Klopp spirit him away in the middle of the night. On the run from his own people, Alek who is the sole heir to the throne,  must try to make for the safety of neutral Switzerland.

Deryn Sharp is a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. When a routine training run with a "Huxley ascender" - a genetically altered hydrogen breather goes awry, Deryn ends up on the Leviathan, a giant living airship on a secret mission to the Ottoman Empire.

A series of catastrophes for both Alek and Daryn brings them together and they find they must work to help one another against a mutual enemy. Each is hiding a secret from the other but each has to trust the other in order to survive.

Scott Westerfeld has created an intriguing alternate history adventure with the backdrop of WWI. The conflict is between the Germans, known as the mechanistic "Clankers"  and the master geneticists, the "Darwinists" who are British.

This story is filled with fantastical machines and beasts; the elephantine, talking lizards and the books namesake, the Leviathan - a great hydrogen breathing whale "fabricated to rival the kaiser's zeppelins" pitted against the Star Wars-like Cycklop Stormwalkers and eight-legged Herkules landships.

I have to say that despite the weird concoctions Westerfeld has created for this novel, I found it exciting and enjoyable. I'll ignore the fact that the "Darwinists" whole world exists because Darwin himself also discovered the secret of DNA. This book is just pure fun and very very imaginative. I love the many pencil illustrations by Keith Thompson throughout - something I remember was a mainstay of books I read as a young adult. I'd like to see more of this  in YA books because it adds an important visual component to the story. I can't wait to read the next book, Behemoth which will be published in October 2010.

If you haven't yet had a chance to do so, check out the book trailer. It's quite unique because it uses many of Keith Thompson's illustrations.

Book Details:

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Simon Pulse 2010
434 pp.

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