Book review: “Leviathan” by Scott Westerfeld

Here I am again, starting another YA series. Because of the paranormal romance craze started by Twilight, it’s been a bit difficult finding new YA books that don’t feature vampires, werewolves, angels, devils, and the like. I have nothing against the genre per se – it’s just not my cup of tea. Good thing I stumbled upon Scott Westerfeld‘s Leviathan series in Fully Booked Greenbelt when I was looking for a Christmas gift for my brother.

Leviathan is set in AU steampunk World War I Europe, where Allied nations are “Darwinists” with fabricated (genetically engineered) beasts (or “fabs”), while the Central Powers are “Clankers” with their mechanical creations. The Germans want to start a war against the Darwinists, so they murder the pacifist Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife Sophie and place the blame on a Serbian nationalist. The novel opens with Prince Aleksandar, son of the archduke, woken up in the middle of the night to be smuggled out of the castle by soldiers loyal to his father. The other protagonist is Deryn Sharp, a Scottish girl who wants to become an airman in the Royal Air Navy. Unfortunately, women aren’t allowed to join the military. The solution? Disguise herself as a boy, of course! (My eyes may or may not have rolled at this part of the blurb.)

What do I love about the book?

  1. The characters. Both Alek and Deryn (AKA “Dylan”) are both fleshed out. Alek initially comes off as a spoiled brat but that’s mostly because he was raised in a barking* castle. Beneath the bravado is someone who lost everything he knew in one night and suddenly has to figure out what he’s supposed to do next. Deryn is a tomboy trying to recapture what she lost when her father died in a hot air balloon accident. She is not weak and knows her own mind. Fate throws them together and they learn to grow together.
  2. The AU world-building. Knowing that the book takes place in World War I Europe gives the reader a general feel for the setting, but it’s Westerfeld’s descriptions and Keith Thompson‘s illustrations that bring it to life.
  3. The plot. It has the right mix of action, political intrigue, and – dare I say it? – romance.

What needed work?

  1. The pacing. The set-up – Alek’s escape from Austria, Deryn training on the Leviathan, the Leviathan bringing Dr. Nora Barlow – took too long. I know the long buildup helped with the great world-building I just praised, but it really did take too long. You have to plow through 50-60% of the book before finally seeing Alek and Deryn meet. Because of this, Leviathan felt like one very long set-up for Behemoth (the next book in the series) instead of a book on its own.

Final score: 4 out of 5 stars


*One advantage of an AU setting is being able to swear all you like because your invented/repurposed “swear words” don’t count. In this case, “barking” roughly translates to “freaking”, as in “freaking castle”. Other words to look out for are “clart” and “bum rag”. LOL