Leviathan Book Review

Review by Alda, New York CCYW Member


Leviathan

By Scott Westerfeld and illustrated by Kieth Thompson

Genre– steampunk, a sub-genre of science fiction frequently set in the Victorian era featuring elements of fantasy as well as fictional technologies.

The facts are still the same. On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, and his wife were assassinated, sending Europe and the entire globe into a tailspin and igniting a war that had been decades in the making.

But in Leviathan’s alternate world, Europe is not divided between the Central powers and the Allies. Rather, it is divided between the Clankers, whose society revolves around the use of steam driven machines and the Darwinists, whose technology is based upon genetically engineered beasts.

Caught in the middle of the political, ideological and technological clash are Prince Aleksander, son of the late archduke, fleeing with a few loyal men from those that want him dead and Deryn Sharp, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service.

When the Leviathan, a genetically engineered airship consisting of a conglomerate of hundreds of animals including a massive whale, is shot down near Alek’s hideout, Deryn and the ship’s mysterious cargo of eggs goes down with it. The two meet on the icy glacier and by a twist of fate, the Clankers and Darwinists must work together if they are to survive the next attack by the Austro-Hungarians.

Overall, I thought that this was a very intriguing book. The major themes of cooperation and understanding are well worn but they are presented in novel ways. By grounding the events of the book in a time which many readers are familiar with, Westerfeld eliminates the need to provide elaborate details for a back story. At the same time, he remains free to manipulate events to fit his vision of the story. His alterations are in the end, of course, what make the story interesting because in narrating a disparate version of the past, he explores two possible futures for humankind.

The machines and hybrid animals described are fascinating and give readers a glimpse of what the world could have been and what it could still be: a world where machines are built to resemble animals and animals are engineered like machines. After all, the level of genetic engineered required to create creatures like those depicted will likely someday be available. As for the machines, they are even now within our technological limits.

The book is filled with illustrations depicting unfamiliar beasts and complicated machinery alike, helping to limit the need for cumbersome descriptive paragraphs. Instead, Westerfeld can keep the action going while allowing readers to use the sketches as a guide to what’s going on. Another way he maintains the fast tempo is by alternating viewpoints between the two main characters every few chapters. The characters themselves are easy to relate to and are well developed which allows readers to connect with the story.

For a perceptive reader then, this book can be not only a good read but also an example of good writing.

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