Book Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

leviathanAs a steampunk fan, I’ve been looking forward to reading Leviathan for some time. I knew a very little bit about the world, which sounded cool, and I’m always interested to see what different authors come up with for steamupunk worldbuilding.

What I got with this one was a really fun, briskly paced YA novel that kicks off a trilogy I absolutely can’t wait to finish.

Alek is a prince who cannot inherit his father’s throne, but his mere existence upsets a very delicate balance that’s thrown off when his parents are killed. He’s spirited away from his house one night by a small band of loyal men, and now he’s on the run from his own people.

Deryn is a soldier in the British Air Service, serving aboard the massive airbeast Leviathan, with one tiny secret: she’s a girl, not a guy, and she’ll be kicked out if anybody discovers her secret.

With war threatening, the Leviathan is sent on a special urgent mission to the Ottoman Empire. Soon, Deryn and Alek will cross paths, and they’ll both be swept up in an effort to stem the advancing tide of war.

Most steampunk novels I’ve read tend to take place in the mid-to-late 1800s, but Leviathan offers us an alternate take on the beginning of World War I. If you remember history class, you probably remember the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, which kicked off the Great War in 1914. In Leviathan, though, their deaths have a bit more sinister and personal cause, though the ultimate effect—international war—is the same.

I loved the way Westerfeld wove actual history with fantasy and slightly futuristic technology, particularly in regards to the technology on both sides: fabricated beasts for the British, walking war machines for the Germans. The descriptions of both are fascinating, and I especially enjoyed Alek’s and Deryn’s reactions to the other’s chosen technology.

The beasties, in particular, are really cool in how they’re all created for different, specific purposes: the hydrogen sniffers that search the Leviathan for leaks, the flechette bats used in aerial combat, and even the Leviathan itself.

Westerfeld’s technique itself is brilliant, switching viewpoints every two chapters. After the first few, you know exactly whose head you’ll be in when. It’s refreshing, and it gives you a chance to really get the most out of each storyline before jumping to the other one.

Plus, there are subtle differences (and not-so-subtle ones) in the way he writes in Alek’s viewpoint versus Deryn’s. Even though he does a good job of letting the reader know whose head we’re in, you can tell the viewpoint character from the dialogue and internal cadence. Deryn’s voice is spotted with slang and cursing, while Alek sounds very much like the noble he is. It’s glorious.

I adored Deryn. She’s a very quick thinker, courageous and bold, loves to fly and loves being on an airship. She’s very bound to her duty as a soldier, but doesn’t let her pledge to king and country keep her from thinking for herself. I liked Alek as well, but he’s a bit stiffer initially, considering his background. However, he definitely grows on you over the course of the story.

The illustrations littered throughout the book are absolutely gorgeous. I actually paused in reading to soak up the goodness of the art.

If you’re into steampunk already, I think you’ll definitely enjoy Leviathan. If you aren’t, then Leviathan is, honestly, a great introduction to the genre. The characters are great, the worldbuilding is phenomenal, and I really, really can’t wait to read more.