Author: Scott Westerfeld

Publication: 2009, Simon Pulse

Pages: 434

Overall Rating: bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]                        

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Alek is the only son of the Archduke of Austria Hungary.  When his parents are secretly murdered by the Emperor Alek is forced to run for his life with nothing but a battered stormwalker and small crew of men.  Deryn Sharp is a young girl faking her way into the British air service, where she serves aboard the giant living airship, Leviathan.  As World War I breaks out, Deryn and her ship are sent on a strange diplomatic mission to deliver the scientist Dr. Nora Barwell through enemy territory to Turkey.  But their ship is badly damaged over the Swiss alps, leaving them stranded and helpless – with no one to turn to but Alek – a boy being sought by half the German army, a boy who is supposed to remain in hiding.  In this glorious steampunk novel, the Germans and their allies fight with powerful walking machines while the British rely on fabricated beasts, stringing together the DNA of hundreds of different creatures to come up with fantastic new creations.   Can Alek and Deryn overcome the vast cultural and political gulf meant to keep them apart, and become the friends and allies that each so desperately needs?

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: The concept behind this book is absolutely fantastic – Europe broken into factions of machine based countries (where the war machines all walk on legs rather than using tires or treads) and countries that rely on fabricated animals to meet all of their needs.  And the creatures that Westerfeld has come up with are absolutely incredible.  The Leviathan isn’t some simple airship made of cloth and filled with hydrogen.  It’s a hydrogen breathing whale.  They hydrogen is a byproduct of its digestive tract – so when it eats it produces the gas that keeps it aloft.  And the Leviathan isn’t just one creature either – it’s a whole ecosystem, filled with bees, spike eating bats, hawks, six legged hydrogen sniffing dogs, glow worms, and more.  It makes for the ultimate us vs. them conflict.  The Darwinists (who base everything on fabricated beasts) think the Clankers are loud, dirty and make everything too complicated, while the Clankers think the Darwinists are an unholy abomination.  It all makes for some great early interactions between Alek and Deryn as the two learn to overcome their prejudices.

In fact, there were a lot of great interactions between Deryn and Alek.   Not only is one Clanker and the other Darwinist, but they come from utterly different backgrounds – one an Austrian prince the other from a poor family in Scotland, one who speaks very formal English the other who speaks in an endless string of slang.  But as the two grow into friends, all those differences become unimportant.

What I Liked the Least: This is one of those rare cases where I really can’t think of anything I didn’t like.  I suppose that says a great deal.

How Good was the Action?  The action is fun and high energy with a swashbuckling flair.  It’s not that you don’t worry about Alek and Deryn or how they’ll survive – you do, and there are moments of high tension – but in general the action is more fun than terrifying.  And there’s plenty of it to go around, from madcap stormwalker chases through the Austrian mountains to massive airship battles.  There’s no shortage of deafening explosions and machine gun barrages to keep you on your toes.

How Engaging was the Story?  Westerfeld provides a wonderful mix of real and invented history, weaving it all together into a very engrossing alternative version of World War I.  Deryn and Alek stand out as two vividly drawn, living and breathing characters, and couldn’t help being sucked into their world and the madcap adventure they find themselves plunged into.  I was also attracted to the powerful characters of Count Vogel – one of Alek’s formidable guardians – and Dr. Nora Barlow, the non-nonsense scientist / diplomat the Leviathan is transporting to Turkey.  They add a fine extra layer of politics and complications to an already engaging story.

Overall Assessment: Leviathan is a fantastic, high flying adventure full of vivid characters and a wildly imagined world of walking machines and huge fabricated beasts.  It’s good, swashbuckling fun that will suck you in and leave you with a smile on your face.  Enjoy.

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: There is some, particularly one incident in which Alek kills an Austrian soldier, but it’s fairly minimal and mostly of a swashbuckling nature with no blood or gore.

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