It's no secret to long-time readers of this blog that I have a thing for Scott Westerfeld's writing. I wrote my senior thesis on the Uglies series, for goodness' sake! So it's probably no surprise, given my history with Westerfeld's work and my feelings about last year's Leviathan, that I enjoyed Behemoth. Just wanted to get that out of the way in case the curiosity was killing you.
When we last left the crew of the British airship Leviathan, they had just picked up several Austrian passengers, including the son of the recently-assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Alek - not that any of the British crew know that. Alek's lone friend among the crew is a young airman Dylan, who is actually a young woman, Deryn, disguising herself so she can serve in the air force - not that anyone knows about that. The airship is carrying some precious cargo and distinguished guests, including the granddaughter of Charles Darwin, who has some very special eggs she wants delivered to the ruler of the Ottoman Empire before a great war can break out among the European nations in response to the murder of Alek's parents.
The Ottoman Empire is at a crossroads when the Leviathan docks. They are technically neutral in the burgeoning conflict, but are being courted by both German and British forces for an alliance. And all is not well within the Empire, as the current sultan has only been in power for a few years and already militants are planning a coup to replace the monarchy with a democratic government. Alek and Deryn know that technically they are on opposite sides in this war - Clanker and Darwinist, royalty and commoner - but discover they will have to work together, along with an eclectic mix of allies, if they ever hope to achieve their mutual goal: stop a world war from beginning.
If you haven't read Leviathan yet, you absolutely need to read it before reading Behemoth. The story picks up mere days after the end of Leviathan, and the action starts within just a few pages, leaving precious little time to catch the reader up on what happened in the last book. I really liked the fact that Westerfeld just goes with the assumption that the reader already knows the back story, because that means each and every page can be devoted to developing what happens next.
This is one wild ride both similar to and very different from Leviathan. In the last book, we followed Alek wandering in the wilderness towards safety with his body guards, and Deryn spent much of her story alone among the crew out of need to protect her secret. In Behemoth, less physical ground is covered, as the story stays focused on Istanbul, and the story becomes more of a political thriller as Alek and Deryn become involved in the resistance movement - which introduces my favorite character, the feisty revolutionary Lilit, who has dreams of bringing women's liberation to Istanbul. She also has a huge crush on one of our dashing heroes. Lilit is a young woman destined for greatness and could probably support a whole novel of her own!
As expected, there are more great beasties and machines this time around. The Ottoman Empire is a Clanker nation, but they're more in touch with nature than the Germans or Austrians, as their mechanics are based on animals. My favorite was probably the spider-like machine that worked the great library. On the Darwinist side, we finally get to see what was in those eggs that were so carefully guarded in Leviathan and, of course, there's the title beastie, the Behemoth. It's awesome, in every sense of the word.
Because I feel like it's becoming my trademark, I do have to comment for a moment on the romance element of the book. Deryn is beginning to develop "feelings" for Alek. Maybe this just annoyed me because I read it shortly after The Education of Bet and A Golden Web, two other novels about young women dressing up as men, but I'm getting quite tired of girls putting all of their other goals at risk because of some boy that literally thinks they're just one of the guys. Deryn keeps a handle on herself better than the protagonists of the other two books, and it's really just a small bit of this otherwise giant story, but it still rankled me a bit. I am certain Goliath won't go the way of Mockingjay in terms of focus on relationships, but I can't deny there's a little bit of worry in the back of my head. Hopefully, averting World War I will remain the focus.
Rot & Ruin Giveaway Reminder: I'm going to draw the winner for the Rot & Ruin giveaway at 12 pm Eastern time today! If you still want a chance to win, enter here!
Reviewed from ARC picked up at ALA 2010.