Sunday, August 21, 2011

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

 Leviathan (Leviathan Series #1)
by Scott Westerfeld & illustrated by Keith Thompson
Published by Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2010
464pages (paperback)

It is the cusp of World War I. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ genetically fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.
Aleksandar Ferdinand, a Clanker, and Deryn Sharp, a Darwinist, are on opposite sides of the war. But their paths cross in the most unexpected way, taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure….One that will change both their lives forever. (from

Before this book I had heard of steampunk, but I hadn’t read any. In case you are wondering, steampunk is
  • a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy featuring advanced machines and other technology based on steam power of the 19th century and taking place in a recognizable historical period or a fantasy world (from
So, to me, steampunk is a little bit of everything. Science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and a lot of randomness. If nothing else, the clothes look cool so I decided to try out my first steampunk book.

Leviathan drew me in quickly. The beginning of the book was action-packed and many of the chapters ended in cliff-hangers so I wanted to keep reading. Then there were the steampunk elements. Wow. I am really glad the book included illustrations because I am not sure I could have imagined the creatures in the book. Yes, Scott Westerfeld described them pretty well and I do have a good imagination, but the fabricated animals really are fantastical. But it was fun to follow a story where history, science fiction, military technology, and fantasy meet.  

As a former history teacher, I was a little bothered by the plot being partly historical fiction and partly revised/made-up history. Thankfully the end of the book has some notes on what really happened and what didn’t happen, but I did do research on my own to double-check what was real and what wasn’t.

However, I did enjoy Leviathan’s explanations of how World War I began. How a huge war that affected so many nations could erupt from an assassination is confusing. The author simplified the confusing politics while putting the thoughts, feelings, and situations of the main characters in the hands of egotistical leaders. Also, the book alternates between Aleksandar’s story and Deryn’s story so getting details about the start of World War I from two very different perspectives was interesting and helpful to empathizing with people in the book.

I would recommend this book to most middle schoolers. It does take a while to figure out some of the steampunk elements, but it is a fresh take on several genres and fun to read for those of you who like to use your imagination.

If you like Leviathan, you will definitely enjoy the 2nd book in the series, Behemoth. And good news… the 3rd book in the series, Goliath, comes out on September 20th!

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