Today’s Sci-Fi Month post is a review of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan, an alternate steampunk history of World War I. Don’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.
I picked this book up from the library back in August, and it sat unread on my shelf for almost two months – I had to renew it about four times, and actually almost returned it unread because of the pile of books I had to read and review for October and November. I am so, so glad that I made time for it, because it was an absolutely fantastic and completely fun read.
Set in an alternate past, during World War I, the tactics and machinery used are rather different from what we know. There are the Clankers, the German Central Powers, who prefer man-made weapons, and use steam driven machines and ammunition for their fights. The Darwinists, on the other hand (the British Entente Powers), have played around with biology, and bred special animals to help in their battles. For example, at one point Deryn rides up into the sky hanging from a Huxley, a sort of jellyfish creature filled with hydrogen. And the eponymous Leviathan – well it’s an airship made of a giant whale and many other creatures. The whole concept of the Clankers and Darwinists was absolutely brilliant, such an original idea and completely enchanting.
Deryn was a wonderful character, going completely against everything expected of a young girl in the early twentieth century. She is intelligent and quick-witted, foul-mouthed at times and very, very brave. She made me laugh many a time, with her quirky curse words. Aleksander is somewhat more serious and mopey, but not at all in an annoying way. In fact it was nice to have the roles that way, the opposite of what often seems to be the norm in YA books.
Another fantastic thing was the use of real historical figures, or references to them. There is even a little appendix separating the real events from the fictional, and talking about the people in the book who actually existed. Not to mention the artwork, illustrated by Keith Thompson, it was a lovely addition to the story and the style was perfect. You can view some samples of it on Scott’s website, if you scroll to the bottom of the page.
I was completely surprised by this book. It is a fast-paced adventure, full of unique ideas, and I can’t emphasise how fun a read it was! I found it very different from Westerfeld’s Uglies series, which I read in my mid teens, and I enjoyed Leviathan a lot more – so if you’ve read Uglies and are unsure about reading this, I urge you to try it anyway! With a clever play on real events, interspersed with completely fictional ones, this book is a definite must read – and a brilliant introduction to steampunk for anyone who has not yet encountered the genre.