The Leviathan Series #1
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Genre: Science Fiction
Synopsis from back of book:
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.
This book has been on my reading list for a long time, and this summer as a “Woohoo, school’s out!” book, I finally got around to reading it. Leviathan is a steampunk alternate universe of the time surrounding World War I; the Allies are replaced with the Darwinists, who use fabricated “beasties” to assist them in their work and war, and the Central Powers are replaced by the Clankers, who use machines. The steampunk and historical setting is what initially interested me in this book, and I wasn’t much disappointed.
Deryn Sharp was born to fly. Before the tragic accident, her pa always took her up into the sky in a balloon, and her older brother has been enlisted on an airship for a while. Unfortunately, since Deryn is a girl, she is legally unable to land herself upon an airship as anything but a passenger. Under the alibi of Dylan, Deryn donns her brother’s clothes and goes to sign up. By way of sheer coincidence, she finds herself on the largest darwinist airship in the British infantry -- a helium-filled whale called the Leviathan.
Prince Aleksander is a fictional secret son of Archduke Ferdinand, and also the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire. After his father and mother are assassinated in Serbia and spawn arguably one of the silliest wars in history, Alek is forced to flee Austria-Hungary to the neutral Switzerland. Accompanied by a small crew of his father’s most loyal employees, he sets off in a small clanker war machine called a Walker (much like an AT-ST from Star Wars.) After narrowly surviving multiple attacks by much, much larger war machines, he finds himself in Switzerland, supposedly safe and sound -- until they discover the Leviathan. This is the point at which Deryn and Alek’s paths cross.
I very much enjoyed Leviathan for its historical setting. This time period is one that I find fascinating, so it was fun to read a fictional, largely more light-hearted version of the unstable period before and at the very beginning of World War I. Alek and Deryn were characters that were well-rounded and underwent a bit of development -- Alek more so than Deryn. Keith Thompson’s illustrations are beautiful and enrich the story.
Despite how much I wanted to extol this book, at times I had to push myself through it. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, but I’ve decided that I can’t stand something about Scott Westerfeld’s writing style. I struggled through three and a half of the Uglies series a few years back, so I’m not sure exactly what I expected to be different. Something about it makes it seem so cheesy that I can’t help but cringe and tear my eyes out with a rusty spoon. Additionally, these characters are constantly needlessly complaining about something. With Deryn, it’s how hard it is to pretend to be a boy, which honestly, I don’t think is a valid complaint. Before she goes to apply for the air force, Deryn bemoans that fact that if she’s denied, she’ll have to go back to wearing poofy dresses and corsets, embroidering things all day, and not being allowed to cuss. If you ask me, she already acts very much like a boy; there isn’t really much about her behavior that would easily indicate she’s a girl besides her lack of facial hair. Alek mostly complains about his crew, the lot of which have risked their lives to help save him. They could have easily denied his dead father’s orders and left him to be hunted down and assassinated, but instead, they decided to stay on his side and honour his father’s wishes. Given this, I don’t think that Alek has much of a right at all to complain about the behavior of his crew. As he grows, the problem becomes mostly resolved -- but in the very beginning, I think it was unnecessary to his character and highly annoying.
Overall, I enjoyed Leviathan for its story and disliked it for the writing style. I’d recommend it to younger readers especially, as it’s a good, easy introduction to the politics of World War I. The things that I disliked about it are probably petty in most peoples’ opinion, the characters are unique and interesting, and the story never really slows down. For younger kids who don’t read much, I’d definitely recommend Leviathan.