Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Title: Leviathan

Author: Scott Westerfeld

Illustrator: Keith Thompson

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Date Read: December 28-29, 2012

“Choose Your Weapon: Beastie or Clanker

Alek is a prince without a throne. On the run from his own people, he has only a fighting machine and a small band of men.
Deryn is a girl disguised as a guy in the British Air Service. She must fight for her cause- and protect her secret- at all costs.
Alek and Deryn are thrown together aboard the mighty airship Leviathan. Though fighting side by side, their worlds are far apart. British fabricated beasts versus German steam-powered war machines. They are enemies with everything to lose, yet somehow destined to be together.”

Some helpful terminology:

Boffin: A Boffin is a Darwinist scientist/fabricator

Beastie: Beasties are the fabricated beasts created by the Darwinists. They take the life threads from many different species. The Leviathan is a beastie.

Clanker: A Clanker is someone who does not believe in or follow the legacy put forth by Charles Darwin. They prefer steam-powered machines and mechaniks over beasties.

Characters:  Let me just start by saying that I was very fond of all of the main characters in this book. Alek is a teenage aristocrat with no knowledge of how to get along outside of his palace. He very determined, and his outlook on the world really evolves as the book progresses. Alek is a refreshing character because he is not so pessimistic in his outlook of the world, even though the novel takes place during wartime. However, Alek’s youthful optimism is often tempered by the realism of his fencing instructor Count Volger. Count Volger and Master Klopp are two of the people that accompany Alek on his journey away from Austria. While Volger is a realist with a particular knack for the political game, Master Klopp is a more kind-hearted master of mechanics whose knowledge proves very useful down the road.

Deryn is one of my favorite characters in the book. She is a really strong individual, and I love that she takes her future into her own hands by joining the Air Service despite her… problem. She is smart and isn’t afraid to show it, and she really shines as a midshipman. She is quite connected to the Darwinist beasties, and the clash between Clankers and Darwinists is interesting to watch through her’s and Alek’s eyes.

Around halfway through the book, we encounter a “lady boffin” whose presence really changes the direction of the book and gives the story line a new level of complexity. Dr. Barlow is an important boffin with an important mission that changes Deryn and Alek’s relationship.

Conflict: On a macro level, the main conflict in this book is World War I. Westerfeld’s WWI is much the same as the one we remember, but the Darwinists and Clankers add some political tension and also change the type of warfare. Leviathan focuses on the tension between the Darwinists and Clankers and about how views change aboard the Leviathan when the two powers are forced to work together. On a micro level, the conflict lies with Deryn’s secret. Her secret causes some problems for her through the course of the book, the biggest being the strain on her friendship with Alek.

Things I liked: Mostly, I just really liked the whole book. I liked that Westerfeld kept the events leading up to WWI relatively accurate, and that he managed to create a different environment in which the same situation could occur. He paid great attention to detail, and he did a great job foreshadowing. I liked that Alek and Deryn are both strong individuals, but that their strengths compliment each other. I really appreciate that Deryn is not automatically made to be the sensitive one because she is a girl, but that Alek seems to be the more sensitive type. Deryn is a really great character because her insecurities stem from her secret, not from whether or not she has the ability to make it as a midshipman.

I also really liked the explanations of the Darwin fabrications. The way he describes the Darwinists and Clankers makes it seem that this is just an alternate course that our reality could have taken. If different choices or different discoveries had been made, this world would be entirely plausible. This really helped me get into the story. I am a big fan of fantasy books, but it’s nice when you can draw some parallels to your own world. Westerfeld also has a great imagination when it comes to different types of fabrications and walkers!

Another thing- I loved the illustrations. Keith Thompson’s work is really great and the style really seems to compliment the style of the novel. They were often very helpful in envisioning some of the fabrications and walkers. I was a little nervous at first to see that there were illustrations, but the way they compliment the book really works.

Things I didn’t like: While I did like the different sort of language that Deryn used, I felt like she used the same phrases too often. We don’t hear from many Darwinists that use the same language, and sometimes this caused Deryn’s overusage (especially of “barking” or “barking spiders!”) stick out.

I would also have liked a little more of Deryn’s family background, but I guess you can’t fit everything into a book and keep the integrity of the original story.

Overall: I really liked this book. I haven’t had a lot of experience with steampunk, but this really kept my interest. He creates a plausible world and the characters are really well developed. This was one of those books that I just couldn’t put down. If I wasn’t reading, I was thinking about reading. I am also a fan of the way Alek and Deryn’s different stories start off separate and eventually merge- in other words, I really liked Westerfeld’s style.

Rating: 5 stars

Other works by Scott Westerfeld: The Uglies series, Peeps, Midnight series, Risen Empire series, and So Yesterday.


6 thoughts on “Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

  1. This is the only steampunk book that I’ve read, and I love it! I’m a history major, and I liked how Scott Westerfeld was able to, like you said, follow the political tensions of WWI, but not be confined by it. He charts a new course in history, and we see different underlying machinations that are (hopefully) going to be integral to the outcome of the war, such as Alek’s existence as the son of the Duke and Duchess of Austria, or the surpise they dump at the end of the book. I definitely need to pick up these books again! Great review. I really like your format. Very clear and straightforward! I just kind of ramble, as you can tell from this overly long comment!

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