Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

ARC picked up at BEA

My main reason for getting into BEA back in May was the release of the Catching Fire ARC. A nice bonus was picking up Leviathan, written by my hero Scott Westerfeld. I've written more about my love affair with Mr. Westerfeld's work here.

Leviathan has gone through quite a bit of cosmetic changes since I got my ARC. Mine has the original cover, which was nice and all, but I really love the actual cover.

But a change in covers isn't quite enough to get me to go out and buy a new copy of the book - however, the new endpapers might get me to change my mind. Check out Scott's blog for an awesome .jpg (it's now my desktop background at work) and background information on allegorical maps and an explanation of the imagery in Leviathan's map.

But what about the actual story, you're asking? It is, in a word, awesome.

Set in an alternate WWI-era Europe, Leviathan follows two teenagers: Deryn is a Scottish girl who dresses up as a boy (and goes by the name Dylan) in order to join Britain's air service. Alek is the son of Archduke Ferdinand. Yeah, that Archduke Ferdinand.

But because this is steampunk, this isn't just a piece of historical fiction: in this version of WWI, the British have learned how to genetically engineer animals (these are the Darwinists, as here it was Charles Darwin who discovered DNA and paved the way for such engineering), while Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire rely upon great mechanical war machines that do in some ways emulate the animal fabrications of the British. In our history, machines have usually moved on wheels, but in Leviathan's world, the machines (clankers - any more explanation necessary?) move about on sets of legs.

Deryn and Alek have parallel adventures through Europe for most of the book: Deryn is serving on the great airship Leviathan, which is transporting precious cargo to Russia, while Alek is on the run for his life from the people who would have him assassinated.

Leviathan has a lot of the hallmarks of a great Scott Westerfeld book: the action scenes are epic, there are long journeys through the wilderness (not unlike Tally's quest to find the Smoke back in Uglies), and great, distinct characters. Of course Deryn is a very strong female character (because Westerfeld doesn't seem to know how to write any other kind!), and I really appreciated how in the author's note at the end of the book it's noted that, in reality, much of the past was a terrible time to be a woman. But that's part of the fun of steampunk, that you can take a setting that was less-than-ideal in many ways and create something new. (For more on alternate histories, including some thoughts by Scott Westerfeld on this very subject, check out this video from BEA where Scott Westerfeld speaks, along with Holly Black and Cassie Claire).
Related Posts with Thumbnails