Thursday, November 25, 2010

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

The much awaited second book in Westerfeld's WWI steampunk trilogy, Behemoth was exciting but at times, confusing.
Like the first book, it was jam-packed with action, racing from one exciting adventure to the next. While this kept me as a reader engaged, at times it was confusing to follow and difficult to see just where Westerfeld was going with the plot.

The book opens with the Leviathan encountering two German warships and almost being destroyed by a Tesla cannon - a type of electrical weapon whose purpose is to ignite the hydrogen warships that Britain flies, thus destroying them.

Eventually the Leviathan reaches its destination of Constantinople, Turkey where Dr. Barlow has a secret mission to the Sultan. At this time, Alek, Volger, Klopp, Hoffman and Bauer attempt to escape the Leviathan as they come to realize that they are now in fact, prisoners of war. Alek, Klopp and Bauer are successful but instead of going into hiding, Alek becomes involved in with the revolutionary Committee of Union and Progress to overthrow the Sultan. While in Instanbul they come to realize that the Germans have managed to bring the Sultan to their side and have heavily mechanized the city.  The Germans are also constructing a enormous Tesla cannon above the city. The Germans wish to block the supply lines to Russia, thus starving the army and preventing them from aiding the British in the war. To accomplish this they want to close the Dardanelles.
To prevent this from happening, Deryn (as midshipman Dylan Sharp) is sent on a secret mission to open up the Dardanelles Strait so the Leviathan can lead the Behemoth in to destroy the German warships and thus keep The Straits open. Deryn's attraction to Alek, leads her back to Istanbul to try to locate and help him. She too is eventually drawn into helping Alek and the revolutionaries in overthrowing the Sultan. This all builds to an exciting confrontation on various levels.

To be honest I don't feel the book is accurately titled. There is very little in the way of build-up as to what the behemoth is and in fact, the Behemoth plays only a very small part in the overall storyline.

There is no doubt that the book has breathtaking action, imaginative creatures (vitriolic barnacles and Spottiswoode Rebreather, "an underwater apparatus created from fabricated creatures...."), outrageous machines of all types including djinns, golems and elephants, and colourful characters (Eddy Malone, an American with a talking bullfrog). There are the wonderful pencil illustrations by Keith Thompson which add to the overall visualization of the storyline, although a map would have been a welcome addition to the book since geography is pivotal to the plotline.

It is interesting to see how Westerfeld has created two societies who are the extreme opposite of each other. Clankers have taken technology to an extreme with their highly mechanized society. The Darwinists have taken genetic engineering to its extreme with their fabricated creatures. Of the two cultures, the Darwinist culture seems to be the more humane in some ways, showing an understanding of the ecological relationship between living things they have fabricated. The Leviathan is an ecosystem by itself. The Darwinists however, draw the line at these creatures not being capable of independent thought.

Although both Clankers and Darwinists show repulsion for the other's society, it seems that when each is exposed to the other's culture their views are modified somewhat. This is especially true for Alek who tells Dylan "Perhaps I'm putting this stupidly. But it's almost as though...I'm in love with your ship (the Leviathan)."
"It feels right here." Alek shrugged. "As if this is where I'm meant to be."

Overall, a good second part to this trilogy and highly recommended!

Book Details:
Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld
Simon Pulse: New York 2010

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