by Scott Westerfeld
First book in the “Leviathan” series
After the assassination of his parents, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Princess Sophie, Prince Alek is on the run. As the news of the double-murder spread across Europe, the complex web of alliances threatens to bring the entire continent to war. As Prince Alek slips into hiding, a young lady in London named Deryn Sharp takes on the name of “Dylan” and impersonates a boy so that she can join the British Air Service. After a series of mishaps, she ends up part of the crew of the Leviathan, a massive air-beast (something of a cross between a zeppelin and a whale) bound for Constantinople. After an attack from Germany forces the ship to crash into a glacier, Deryn discovers the hiding place of Prince Alek. Alek is a “Clanker” - they prefer to use machine-based technologies. Deryn is a “Darwinist” - these scientists have evolved animal-based warships that are actually living ecosystems. Although the two teenagers come from opposing ideologies, they will need to band together if they hope to survive the oncoming chaos of World War I.
I think I was pretty much predestined to love this book.
Steampunk + alternate history = WIN, right? RIGHT.
I love the world-building here. In this version of the early 20th century, Charles Darwin had managed to discover DNA, and researchers had extrapolated this knowledge out enough to create new species. They eventually developed animals that could fulfill the functions that machines do today. (Which, when I think about it, is a truly terrifying idea.) The backlash against the Darwinists is led the Clankers, who use steam-driven, iron machines. The Church seems to be largely against the Darwinist creatures, judging from Alek's horrified reaction to them. I thought that it was very well done, and I'm fascinated to see how the world continues to develop in future volumes.
The characters were a little flat, though. I mean, I liked Deryn and her refusal to conform to ideas about a “proper young lady”. It was incredibly brave of her to join the British Air Service. But on the other hand, she is constantly cussing and talking the made-up slang Westerfeld developed for this book...and that gets old, fast. I enjoyed many of the secondary characters, though, from Dr. Nora Barlow (the real granddaughter of Charles Darwin, who in this history is a scientist and diplomat) to Count Volger, a calculating man who often seems the only one who understands the implications of his young charge's actions.
There are two sequels to Leviathan: Behemoth and Goliath. I had been meaning to start this series for years, but it was the release of the last book in September that finally got me to do it. You should, too, if you haven't already! It's a lot of fun.
Note: I encountered this book through an audio version that I borrowed from the library, read by Alan Cumming. It was awesome. I have since learned that the print book has great black and white illustrations. I feel like whichever format you choose, you win!
4 out of 5 stars
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