Aleksandar Ferdinand--the son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his commoner wife, Sophie Chotek--is secreted out of the Austro-Hungarian palace only hours after he becomes an orphan. In the dead of night, loyal countrymen, Otto Klopp (master of mechaniks) and Count Volger (fencing master), help Alek into a Cyklop Stormwalker to begin their escape to the Swiss Alps.
Meanwhile, young Deryn Sharp wants nothing more than to join the British Air Service and become a pilot. There is just one large problem: The service doesn't accept girls. Nevertheless, her brother, Jaspert, has been coaching her in aerology and the use of a sextant. She plans to pass the entrance tests and muster in disguised as a boy.
After air battles and land skirmishes, Alek and "Dylan" Sharp meet on a glacial field in Switzerland. The teens, each hiding behind a false identity, must decide whom to trust.
Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan is a steampunk novel that offers an alternative look at the start of World War I. Deryn and Alek's world is divided by two principal ideologies: One that believes in breeding and harnessing living machines and one that relies on building nuts-and-bolts inanimate devices. Although the particulars are fresh, the foundation of Leviathan's Europe is utterly familiar; thus the reader is immediately at home.
The action will keep you turning the pages, but the characters make the novel shine. Deryn is so likable, you cannot help but root for her; she is smart and capable but is also a bit lost in the world of boys and sometimes finds it difficult to keep her gender hidden. Alek is both brave and fool-hearty, and we hope that he will find a way to deal with his parents' deaths and his changing status.
If you are unsure about steampunk, you might want to try Leviathan because it is quite accessible. The machinery is, of course, key to the story, but Westerfeld makes sure the reader doesn't become bogged down in new terminology. Furthermore, the novel is wonderfully illustrated by Keith Thompson, and the black-and-white charcoal (pencil?) drawings are not to be missed.
I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Simon & Schuster, 8 hr, 20 min) read by Alan Cumming. Cumming was a great pick for Leviathan; his expressiveness, accents, and pacing kept me glued to my mp3 player. As I listened, I was fortunate enough to have a print copy at hand so I didn't miss out on the fabulous artwork.
Both the audio and the print book end with an author's note that talks a little bit about the nature of steampunk and where (besides the obvious) Leviathan departs from historical fact.
Leviathan's story continues in Behemoth (also narrated by Cumming), and I can't wait to listen to it. I'm holding out, however, until I buy a print copy, so I can see Thompson's illustrations as the novel progresses.
The book trailer gives you sense of both the story and the illustrations (it is not narrated by Cumming).
Published by Simon & Schuster / Simon Pulse, 2009
Source: Bought (see review policy)
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