Saturday, June 19, 2010

"Leviathan" by Scott Westerfeld

Summary: In this alternative history of World War I, the world is divided into the Clankers and the Darwinists.  The Clankers rely on large machines and robot-like walkers for power while the Darwinists use fabricated animal hybrids. 

Deryn has always wanted to work in the air, like her father.  But because she's a girl, she's prohibited from joining the British Air Service.  So Deryn disguises herself as Dylan and joins the team working on the Leviathan, the giant whale-hybrid air ship.  Alek is the prince of Austria-Hungary.  When his parents are assassinated, Alek is spirited away by servants loyal to his father.  With the world on the brink of full-scale war, Deryn, Alek, and their companions are forced into an uneasy alliance.

Musings: I first purchased this book last fall when I had the opportunity to meet Scott Westerfeld at a signing.  I've been using the cards I got from the event as bookmarks for months, but I only just got around to reading the book itself.

Leviathan is the first book I've read in the steampunk genre, and the history Westerfeld created in the book is definitely the strongest part of the novel.  Although much of the science is far-fetched, it's interesting to imagine a world in which technology has been taken in two very opposite directions.  The machines the Clankers use are nothing new (they've appeared in numerous sci-fi stories), but the animal hybrids of the Darwinists are certainly unique.  I especially liked the way in which "machines" like the Leviathan rely on a symbiotic relationship between species and the environment to power the ship--an extreme and intriguing way of being eco-friendly! (though I would wonder whether a living whale being used as a ship would be considered animal cruelty)

Unfortunately, however, I didn't find the story especially exciting.  It was easy to put down the book, and I didn't feel connected to Deryn or Alek.  Each has interesting back story, and I liked their growing friendship, but something about the narrative arc was just "meh" for me.  However, the book is deceptively short (although coming in at over 400 pages, the pages are extremely narrow with large print and margins and a number of illustrations), so the story went fast.  The frequent illustrations were also great, especially since the book has so many detailed machines and creations that might be hard to imagine otherwise.  I liked the pictures' old-time children's story book feel.

Leviathan is a good introduction to the steampunk genre, and perhaps the next book in the series will ramp up the storyline.


  1. Too bad you didn't love this one! I thought it was pretty fantastic, but I do know what you mean about being able to put the book down - I felt that especially during Alek's portion of the story. I'm looking forward to the next one in the series, though I know we're just in for another cliffhanger!

    Nice review.

  2. Yeah, Alek's story left me a bit cold, and somehow I liked Deryn better when she was narrating than when Alek was narrating about her. I do think I'll try the sequel this fall, though!