Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Book Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld


Scott Westerfeld

Publication Date: October 6th 2009

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Pages: 448

Genre:  Adventure, Historical, Steampunk, Middle-Grade(?)

Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

I love Scott Westerfeld's writing. I was introduced to him through a short story and then I went and read the Uglies series, one of the original sparks for the young adult dystopia obsession around today (my favourite in the series being Extras). So when I kept seeing a steampunk novel floating around also by him I was intrigued, I just had to pick it up.

My first reaction to the book: Holy moly this font is huge! (I don't know if this was just my copy or not), but my second was being floored by the illustrations.

Westerfeld is an excellent world-builder, which is a must when someone tackles steampunk, which has to have a very rich background to it to succeed. Somewhere along the lines of the creation of the book the idea to include illustrations happened, and it really brought the book up several levels. The creations and creatures are amazing to begin with, when described in print, but seeing them actually drawn out brought them to life for me. Every illustration is incredibly detailed and gorgeous.

If you don't know what steampunk is, it is the idea of scifi from the time of H.G. Wells (his books are the inspiration for many lovers of the steampunk genre). It's pretty much historical scifi (which sounds a bit like an oxymoron, but I digress). In this case, Westerfeld targets the time of WW1, giving the opposing sides different types of "technology". For Great Britain and their allies, they use the information that Darwin (in this world) had discovered, the ability to unravel DNA, to create great beasts that they use as war weapons. While the other side with Austria uses massive machines and despises the idea of the beasts. What's funny is I actually learned actual facts about WW1 from the book.

Now on to the story and characters. I have to admit, I was more drawn to the British pilot character more than the Austrian Non-Prince and that has a lot to do with their personalities and situations and probably the fact that I found the Darwinist Beasts so much cooler and innovative. It does border on more of the MG side, but on an Artemis Fowl level.

What's really funny is I forgot Westerfeld was the writer many times throughout the book because the prose and style and story were just so DIFFERENT than any dystopic book written by him. For me this shows how great a writer he is, matching his style to the themes, age-group, and genre.

If you like steampunk, read this book. If you like World History, WW1 era, read this book. If you like interesting characters and some of the best world building out there, read this book. The style straddles the line between MG and YA for me, so if you like either of those styles you would probably be fine with this book. 



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