Author: Scott Westerfeld
Themes: loyalty, responsibility, politics, friendship, sacrifice, science, escape, survival, girl-disguised-as-boy
Plot: Choose your weapon: Beastie or Clanker.
Alek is a prince without a throne. On the run from his own people, he has only a fighting machine and a small band of men.
Deryn is a girl disguised as a guy in the British Air Service. She must fight for her cause-and protect her secret-at all costs.
Alek and Deryn are thrown together aboard the mighty airship Leviathan. Though fighting side by side, their worlds are far apart. British fabricated beasts versus German steam-powered war machines. They are enemies with everything to lose, yet somehow destined to be together.
My Thoughts: One thing that always gets me is misleading back-cover-blurbs, and Leviathan suffers from one. I understand that it is supposed to hook potential readers, but I always end up disappointed and a little angry when I find the book is pointedly different from what is advertised. Especially when it's a good and exciting book on its own. I suppose there are two main complaints about the cover-blurb that I want to address. First, it's brief description of Deryn, she is described as having to fight for her cause and protect her secret at all costs. One would then think she faces some sort of challenge in the book that threatens her secret...or something? But no, in fact, Deryn has a surprisingly easy time of it, and really seems to have no cause except wanting to defy her mother and fly about aimlessly. The other thing that drove me nuts is the final part of the blurb-that Alek and Deryn are fighting together on the airship Leviathan. Judging from this description, the bulk of the book takes place on the ship with both Alek and Deryn. Actually...the two storylines only meet up in the last quarter of the novel, and they are only "fighting together" and "on the ship" for the last chapter (at most) of the book. Um, wth?
But don't let this fool you, I actually enjoyed the book, that's why the cover-blurb annoys me so-they could have written an accurate one that would still have hooked readers!
Anyways. Leviathan is full of adventure, twists, and fantastic world-building that is both creative and optimistic. The Darwinists have fabricated animal/machines through DNA manipulation as started by Darwin (surprisingly) in this alternative history. These beasties include flying whales, jellyfish planes, bomb-releasing bats, and hydrogen sniffing canines. These fabricated creatures have solved the problem of industrialization, although "Monkey Luddites" among the Darwinst countries (including Britain) still fear this awe-inspiring (and quite advanced for 1914) technology. Clankers, on the other hand, rely on sophisticated steam powered machines that typify steampunk. Alek, from the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, is of the Clanker class and can pilot walking machines that are quite similar to rudimentary transformers or anime creations. While it takes a bit of effort, one can eventually accept these technologies in their alternative context. Although, I found myself scoffing at it every now and then.
Alek is a very likable and sympathetic hero, who has faults and makes mistakes which seem to reinforce his "goodness" and strength of character. I will probably read the next installment just to see what becomes of this displaced prince and his small entourage.
Deryn I found to be insufferable, though perhaps this was intentional. The cliched "tough and brilliant girl dresses as boy to prove self-worth etc etc" was a bad start, and I didn't really recover from that as the book progressed. As I mentioned before, I felt Deryn mostly played around and got what she wanted with minimal effort throughout the entire book (Alek's life was a bit more challenging, I must say). She is also abrasive, excessively foul-mouthed, much too forward, and fool-hardy, but for some reason the people around her seem to like her. I didn't get it personally, but I can see how this type of character can be useful for furthering the plot...although if some sort of romantic angle unfolds in the next book I don't think I'll be able to swallow it. I just didn't find her character to be cohesive or believable.
Recommendation: If you are looking for adventure, world building, steampunk, or alternative WWI history then this is an excellent young adult novel for you. The illustrations are gorgeous as well, making for a fun read.
Similar Reads: Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Peirce, The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer, Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith*, Boneshaker by Cherie Priest*, Soulless by Gail Carriger*
Westerfeld, Scott. Leviathan. New York: Simon Pulse, 2009.
*I haven't read them, but they seem similar as far as setting, themes, storylines, etc.