Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld

He'd seen monsters before, of course—talking lizards in the fashionable parlors of Prague, a draft animal displayed in a traveling circus—but nothing as gigantic as this. It was like one of his war toys come to life, a thousand times larger and more incredible.

I'm vaguely familiar with the idea of "steampunk" as a genre, a style, a sort of fashion, but I don't think I've ever read anything that would qualify as steampunk. So, lately, inspired by some of the other GeekDad writers, I decided to check out a few books, and Leviathan is the first one I read. If you have no idea what steampunk is, just go do a quick search for it and see what you turn up: picture the world if the Age of Steam never died. Or, alternatively, if steam-powered machines had been much more advanced. Keep the ornate, Victorian look of things (rather than the sleek aluminum and bright whites of Apple design).

This book is an alternate history version of the beginning of World War I. The archduke of Serbia is assassinated, which sets off a series of events culminating in a war. But in this world, the archduke's son, Aleksandar, escapes with his father's advisor and a few other men. The Austrians are Clankers, meaning they rely on machines, like the two-legged Stormwalker (think Star Wars walkers but with a lot of rivets and less futuristic-looking).

On the other side are the Darwinists: Britain, for instance, has taken advantage of Darwin's discoveries about manipulating DNA, and machines have largely been replaced by fabricated animals. The Leviathan is one such beast, an airship which is practically an ecosystem, based on a hydrogen-filled whale. Obviously there's a lot of tension between Darwinists and Clankers, with each touting the superiority of their technology.

Deryn is a fifteen-year-old girl who manages to join the British air navy and ends up on the Leviathan. She calls herself Dylan and learns to swagger and swear like the other midshipmen, but is always wary that she'll be discovered.

The story jumps back and forth between Alek's story and Deryn's, and inevitably brings them together as the war rages on. Even when the plot involves both of them, Westerfeld shifts the point of view slightly so that we see things from one perspective or the other.

Obviously there's a lot of stretching the laws of science, but I was enthralled by Westerfeld's imagination, particularly in the odd combinations of creatures that populate the Leviathan and keep it running. The Clankers are fun, too, but don't seem nearly as otherworldly. The characters in the book are wonderful, and I breezed through the 400-plus pages, only to discover that it ends in a cliffhanger! I don't know if it's a planned trilogy, or longer series, but now that I'm hooked I have to wait until next October for the next book.

There are plenty of illustrations throughout the book by Keith Thompson, and they are amazing. They're a sort of hybrid of manga and Victorian-style illustrations, which really fit the book and add to it. If you're interested in steampunk or alternate history fiction, definitely give this one a try. You can also see some of the illustrations and read the first chapter at Scott Westerfeld's site.

Fed to jonathan's brain | November 17, 2009 | Comments (0)


Post a comment

Remember Me?