17 January 2011

Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

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).

Leviathan at Powell's
Leviathan at Book Depository
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Published by Simon & Schuster / Simon Pulse, 2009
ISBN-13: 9781416971733
YTD: 6
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B+

Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


bermudaonion 1/17/11, 8:44 AM  

When Carl and I helped Vance move, we had dinner with Vance and a friend of his. His friend is an avid reader and as we talked about books, Carl brought this one up, so we had a big discussion about steampunk. I knew Carl enjoyed this book when he read it, but I didn't know how much until we had that discussion. He wants the next book in the series.

caite 1/17/11, 9:05 AM  

ok, I admit it...steampunk scares me a bit. Or puts me off a bit. But if you say this one is good...

Just Mom 1/17/11, 9:06 AM  

I'm going to have to go google if this is the same author who wrote the Uglies/Pretties series - haven't gotten to that one yet either! I have been curious/confused about steampunk - I think the jewelry and art are beautiful but don't understand how it could be a central part of a story - sounds like this would be a good choice if I decide to give in to my curiosity.

Michelle 1/17/11, 9:36 AM  

I loved this audio! Alan Cumming was absolutely the best choice (even though he had a distinct Schwartzenegger vibe at times) to narrate. I have Behemoth on audio as well and hope to get to it as soon as I have my ipod situation fixed in the car, haha.

Miss Remmers 1/17/11, 10:10 AM  

I absolutely LOVE the book trailer and the synopsis looks promising! Great review!

Miss Remmers 1/17/11, 10:10 AM  

I absolutely LOVE the book trailer and the synopsis looks promising! Great review!

Molly 1/17/11, 10:39 AM  

I have had several students read this book with favorable reactions. While I am not sure it is a book that I would naturally choose to read, I am fascinated by the Steampunk subgenre and if you say this is a good place to start, then that is good enough for me :)

Zibilee 1/17/11, 11:19 AM  

I haven't actually read a lot of steampunk, though I would like to. This book sounds really amazing, and now I am kicking myself because I had the chance to pick up both of the books in this series at a book sale, and decided to put them back. These books also sound good because they would be perfect to share and discuss with my son. It's hard for us to find common reading ground these days, but I think this book would really do the trick. Thanks for the very insightful and persuasive review, Beth. I am off to add these to my shopping cart!

Anonymous,  1/17/11, 12:23 PM  

Steampunk just doesn't do anything for me. But, my niece loves it, I'm going to recommend this on to her.

Nise' 1/17/11, 1:38 PM  

I agree, the illustrations are wonderful! I am a third into Fall of Giants and it reminded me to get Behemoth. Probably the WWI connection!

Sheila (Bookjourney) 1/17/11, 1:53 PM  

I think you just sold me on this one.

April (BooksandWine) 1/17/11, 3:16 PM  

I haven't jumped on the steam-punk bandwagon yet, although I do want to read Leviathan. It sounds quite interesting. ALSO the fact that it is on audio has pushed it up in my estimation.

Unknown 1/17/11, 3:26 PM  

Really liked this one (and the sequel) glad you didn't miss out on the fantastic artwork!

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) 1/17/11, 7:48 PM  

Heaven only knows why I haven't gotten to this, yet. It looks superb. I'm a giant history nerd so it's right snuggled into my little cup of tea. :O) Thanks for the trailer...maybe it'll motivate me to get that whole thing in gear!

Carrie K. 1/17/11, 9:26 PM  

I really liked Behemoth, too - but it ended on even more of a cliff-hanger and there's months until the last book! Ugh.

Jenners 1/17/11, 9:46 PM  

I've heard such good things about this book, and this whole steampunk think seems so mysterious to me (I'd never even heard of it until I started book blogging). Sounds like this might be a good intro to the genre.

Joy Weese Moll 1/17/11, 9:53 PM  

I'm with Carrie K -- loved both this and Behemoth and now waiting impatiently for book 3.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 1/17/11, 10:11 PM  

I haven't read any Westerfeld (although older dau has read PRETTIES/UGLIES ...maybe this is on her shelf?!)

I don't think I've read any steampunk ... would I know if I had? Is this a good book to get my feet wet with the genre?

Literary Feline 1/18/11, 12:49 AM  

I haven't read too much in the way of steampunk, but I've enjoyed what I have read. This sounds like a great book. I'll have to look for it.

Michael Charles,  1/18/11, 9:22 AM  

Have you read Uncle Flynn by Simon Dillon? Its a really exciting story, aimed at older children and adults, which I recently found. Its available as a download from Smashwords. Well worth checking out!

SuziQoregon 1/18/11, 3:20 PM  

Why yes, I AM unsure about steampunk. I'm just not convinced that it's something I'll like, but hearing from you that this is a good one to try makes me get closer to adding it to my TBR list.

Meghan 1/18/11, 7:00 PM  

So far I've enjoyed my ventures into steampunk - I'm so glad you liked this one! I also really enjoyed it, although I see that I never managed to review it. I'll have to read the next one soon!

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick 1/18/11, 8:17 PM  

I got this book for my nephew for Christmas and am now eagerly awaiting him to send it to me - he raved about it, so I'm on pins and needles to get this one.

Alice 1/19/11, 5:26 AM  

Steampunk is definitely something that I would like to read. I've heard all the good stuff about this one too. Glad you like the narrator!

Unknown 1/20/11, 9:37 PM  

I've seen this book but never knew what it was about, didn't really read the back. This one sounds really good! I liked the trailer too.

Swapna 1/21/11, 11:58 AM  

I've never read any steampunk, so I'm thinking this might be a great place to start. Thanks for the review!

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