Posted by: Ms. Matson | October 10, 2011

Leviathan

Leviathan
Scott Westerfeld
Genre: Young adult fantasy/steampunk
AR Level: 5.3
Age Level: 10+

“Wouldn’t it be cool if the First World War had been fought with genetically engineered mutant animals, against steam-powered walking machines? And the answer is, Yes, it would.”
—The New York Times

If that intrigues you, read on. While Leviathan presents an alternate history of World War I, it’s not so much the focus of the story as the backdrop. Longing to serve in the British Air Service, Deryn Sharp is constrained by her gender. She does what many heroines have done before her – disguise herself as a boy. Quite by accident she ends up on the famed airship Leviathan, which is a living, breathing beast. Her path crosses with Prince Aleksander, who has fled his homeland after the assassination of his parents. The problem is, these two are on the opposite sides of the conflict brewing between the Darwinists, who use fabricated beasts, and the Clankers, who rely on steam-powered machines.

I had heard bits and pieces about Leviathan but didn’t really know much about it. I bought it on whim and ended up reading it in a day, and went back to the store the next to get the sequel (and subsequently had to wait two months for the final book). Westerfeld did a fantastic job world-building and I wasn’t ready to leave the Darwinists and Clankers behind.

The writing is interesting. Chapters shift between protagonists Deryn and Alek. I love the way their differences can be seen in the way the author uses voice – though told in third person, there is a distinct difference in the way chapters are written for Deryn or Alek.  Not just the vocabulary used in dialogue, but also descriptions, etc. It really supports characterization and develops setting, as well as establishes the different ways of thinking for each nation.  I like that this continues even after the characters meet.

Be warned – this book has a non-ending. Even though you know this is the first book in a series, you’ll think there’s another chapter to wrap up the first part.  But nope.  Those other pages are the afterward.

Speaking of which, I appreciated the explanations of truth and fiction in the story that Westerfeld gave at the end.  It’s enough background information for kids who know nothing of WWI to place the events in history.

Although labeled as “young adult,” a mature 10 or 11 year old could enjoy this. There is no material/content I find objectionable for that age group.

Leviathan is a good read, and very much worth the purchase.

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