Sunday, May 29, 2016

Book Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld


Alek is prince, but not heir to his family's empire. Deryn is a soldier, but not a boy. Alek is trying to find his place, while Deryn is trying to make hers. The world doesn't seem pleased to give either of them what they want.

The murder of Alek's parents spawns a war that threatens to pull in all of Europe-- maybe even all of the world. The mechanically-minded Clankers and the genetic manipulating Darwinists are going to be pit against one another in an all-out world war. Alek and Deryn find themselves caught in the middle of it. Since Alek's people are Clankers and Deryn's are Darwinists, the two should be enemies. But when the ship Deryn is assigned to, a hydrogen-breathing whale crossbreed called Leviathan, is shot down not far from Alek's hiding place, the two find themselves working together, forging an uneasy alliance between their people. After all, Austria-Hungary and England aren't at war with one another.


That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from

It is the cusp of World War I. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ genetically fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, a Clanker, and Deryn Sharp, a Darwinist, are on opposite sides of the war. But their paths cross in the most unexpected way, taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure… One that will change both their lives forever.


This is World War I in the making, and I swear, if history were really this awesome, I would be a history buff.

I'm not a history buff.

Historical fiction along these veins is some amazing fiction, and Leviathan will pull you right into the story form the first page. Adult readers, don't be turned off by the fact that this is a Young Adult novel (first of a trilogy). There's some great intelligence in this novel for adults and young readers alike. There's just enough of the real world to rouse knowledge of the familiar, with enough alternative history to tweak the imagination and bring the world alive.


Being YA, Leviathan is very easy and quick to read. There's an ease to the prose that makes it a quick page-turner, and the illustrations (about one for a chapter) are a wonderful compliment to the story. Seeing just what the Leviathan and the Clanker machines, like the Stormwalker and the Herkules look like in the minds of the author and the illustrator, were priceless.

There's a definite difference in the styles ofthe two POV characters' chapters, too. Considering his royla upbringing, Alek's surroundings are much more formally experienced, while Deryn's are laid back. Even their speech is distinct. Deryn's slang and the lingo she and those around her use immerse you in the culture without leaving you behind, not knowing what the words and phrases mean. And when the two worlds finally collide, Alek's reactions to Deryn's expressions are wonderful and add a touch of comedy to a very deep and heartfelt section. There's a lot of deep emotion that surfaces in the last third or so of the novel, and it's masterfully handled, both by Westerfeld in the writing and in the honesty of his characters.

My Thoughts

Considering the fact that we're living in an alternate future from Alek and Deryn, in which WWI has already been fought, and we know how it ended, you'd think it would be a matter of course to "choose sides" when it comes to the onset of the war. Just knowing how things go, how our history looks at the "good" and "bad" guys in WWI, it should be easy to pick a favorite side or character in Leviathan.

It isn't. I was so completely enthralled with both Alek and Deryn, with their cultures and technologies, that I would love to be part of either culture. I love the thought of running around in a Stormwalker, or flying in a Huxley, of touring a Darwinist zoo in some sort of Clanker scouting machine. In reading Alek's chapters, I was absorbed in his world, and the same happened with Deryn. I honestly could not decide who or what I liked better.

That's a good thing, in my opinion. The war is not the point here. The characters are, in how they relate to one another and survive in a world that seems to be against them. It's a wonderfully neutral portrayal of WWI, and I can't imagine such a thing being done better than how Westerfeld has approached it.

Would I Recommend This Book? Absolutely. This is a rich world with characters I would kill to meet. Even those with only a rudimentary understanding of history will enjoy it. Actually, you don’t even need a grasp of history to find great entertainment in this book. It stands on its own without the need for it to be based on a real war. The fact that it is is just icing on the cake. I give Leviathan a fabricated 5 out of 5 stars.

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