Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Title: Leviathan
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Genre: Steampunk
Target Audience: All ages, all genders
Number of Pages: Hardcover US edition – 434 pages (with illustrations!)

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

Aleksander Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battle-torn Stormwalker and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With the Great War brewing, Alek's and Deryn's 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. - Summary from inside flap of book

Before Leviathan, steampunk was obscure to me, nothing more than an undefined sub-genre lurking in the background. Now, this fantastical novel, featuring two heroic protagonists and a living whale airship, has awakened me to the wonders of steampunk fiction, a science fiction/speculative book set in the past, usually in the nineteenth century. Scott Westerfeld exceeded all my expectations by crafting a world interlaced with history and futuristic science, teaching me about the confusions of World War I while sparking ideas about the possibilities of creating artificial life. The alternate history timeline, brimming advances in evolutionary science, one of my favorite things in the world, will rouse the imaginations of readers of all ages.

My most beloved books drip with setting, the plot taking place in vivid or unusual locations. The majority of Leviathan's plot unfolds in a highly unique setting, aboard the Darwinists' massive, hydrogen fueled whale airship, from which the book gets its namesake. It's obvious from the meticulous, facinating descriptions of the airship that Scott Westerfeld knows and loves what he's writing about. The tidbits of military terminology will engross both adults and children alike. While not aboard the Leviathan whale airship, the settings are still rich and stunning; journeying through the frigid, desolate Alps, or soaring through the vast skies of early nineteenth century London. The intricate illustrations, though sometimes slightly childish, assist my imagination in picturing the impossible. Without them, it would be hard for me to visualize correctly a giant soaring, breathing whale airship, complete with balconies and verandas. I might struggle to picture the giant walkers that Alek and his loyal crew men journeyed in. With at least one per chapter, the illustrations appear with frequency and give me flashes of nostalgia, as they remind me of those classic old adventure books that I used to read in my younger days.

Told through the alternating two viewpoints of Deryn and Alek, this book's plot drives on with a fast pace, since action is constantly happening to at least one of the narrators. When they meet in the middle of the book, the plot starts to flow even more smoothly, the two perspectives melding into an even more interesting tale. Imagination, not emotion, has always been Scott Westerfeld's aptitude, so I wasn't surprised to find that the character's emotions do not run very deep. However, the characters are still complex. Both the protagonists have their flaws, though end up being likable. Known to the crew as Dylan, Deryn Sharp, a daring airman with an even more daring secret, is cocky and very real. Aleksander Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire, can be slightly illogical and arrogant at times, exposing himself and his crew of men to danger on numerous occasions, though eventually develops into a likable person. The two build an endearing relationship, setting aside their differences to become trusting friends. Their endless bickering is entertaining, reminding me of Ron and Hermione's relationship in Harry Potter.

Like every good book, readers can learn important things from Leviathan. The stark contrast between the Austro-Hungarian Clankers, who build huge, steam-powered machines for weaponry, and the British Darwinists, who evolve animals for battle purposes, shows a perfect example of two very different cultures, each who finds the other to be very strange. At first, Alek, heir to a Clanker driven empire, recoils at the sight of living Darwinist beasties, finding them to be very disgusting and scary. When Deryn takes him into the Leviathan airship for the first time, Alek exclaims, “This is... disgusting! We're inside an animal!” Deryn laughs and retorts, “Aye, but the skins of your zeppelins are made of cattle gut. That's like being inside an animal, isn't it? And so's wearing a leather jacket!...[B]eing inside a dead animal is much more awful, if you think about it. You Clankers really are an odd bunch.” On the other hand, Deryn, a Darwinist, shudders at the thought of manmade, heartless Clanker machines. However, they both come to realize that each group has a lot to learn the other's fortes. In order to achieve their goal, Deryn and Alek must cooperate and use a combination of Darwinist and Clanker technology. This shows that combining the strengths of different cultural groups is a vital idea for a successful modern world, where diversity has never been more important than before.

Overall, Leviathan is an astoundingly hearty and refreshing read that will fuel the daydreams of readers of all ages. With the crisp writing, engaging plot, likable characters, and pure imagination, readers will immerse themselves in this book. It ends satisfyingly, while maintaining enough mystery so that readers will be excited for the sequel Behemoth, releasing in October, 2010. It's one of the books I'm the most excited for this year; I can't wait to dive back into Deryn and Alek's world of Clanker contraptions and Darwinist beasts. Leviathan definitely makes me want to read more steampunk novels!

Trailer (featuring the book's illustrations):

Cover: 4/5 - This cover is intense man. The mechanical gears truly capture the essence of steampunk and are very eye catching. However, it's not as pleasing to the eye as some book covers. I wish a few Darwinist beasties were on it, such as the Leviathan whale itself.

5 hoots!

Source: Local library

Question: Are there any other good steampunk novels out there? Please share in the comments! :)


  1. Hm, while the ideas behind this story interest me, it sounds very, very complex. I don't know if the author could pull it off-I may have to read it at some point.

    The Mortal Engines Quartet by Philip Reeve is set in the very distant future (not in the nineteenth century). Cities can move, cities eat each other, cities travel to have wars! This is steampunk, it's a good series, you should look into it.

    'Soulless' and 'Changeless'-I haven't read this, but I've heard they are categorised as steampunk.

  2. Hey! I'm so glad you liked LEVIATHAN - I've had this on my TBR pile for awhile. I really liked UGLIES, so I bet I'll like this one too :D
    I love how organized your review is and I enjoyed reading your thoughts! Thank you :D

  3. I loved your review. It really helped me to decide that I should definitely buy this book. I wasn't sure if I'd be into it, but I love historical fiction and this seems like it just might have enough of it to keep me reading...Thanks!

  4. What a beautiful blog you guys have going here!

    I really loved Leviathan. Westerfeld's descriptions of this alternate history really drew me in and aren't Keith Thompson's illustrations just fantastic?

    As for more steampunk novels, try Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. You can review of it here:

  5. Lovvvved this book!! I have a weakness for girls pretending to be guys and owning it. XD

    Great review; you sum up every reason why the book is awesome. Scott Westerfeld is one of my favorite authors.

  6. Sounds like an interesting read. I may need to pick this one up.

  7. best book ever!!!!