Thursday, November 12, 2009

Four Star Review: Scott Westerfeld's "Leviathan"

Finished Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan last week and it is officially one of my new favorites. Well, it will be once the sequel(s?) are published.

From the publisher's website:

It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry. The Leviathan is a living airship, the most formidable airbeast in the skies of Europe.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battle-torn Stormwalker and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With the Great War brewing, Alek's and Deryn's 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.

What I love about Westerfeld's writing is how quickly and totally he sucks you into a world of his own making (see the Uglies series) that is at once foreign yet familiar. He uses jargon to show you the limitations, the wonders, or the cruelties of his world and that dialogue slips so effortlessly out of the mouths of his characters, you have to remind yourself that they're not human beings.

He also knows how to write a thrilling adventure story. And he uses this alternate universe he created to wring as much conflict out of the story as possible for a satisfying read. Though the Clankers and Darwinists are inspired by the Axis and Allied powers of the Great War, Westerfeld (and illustrator Keith Thompson) conjures up an unforgettable Steam-punk struggle. Of course, in true Westerfeld form, the cause of the war is pretty much the same in both our worlds. The world of his Uglies series is a reflection of our own society-- our dependence upon technology and petroleum, and societal brainwashing, just to scratch the surface. Leviathan is no different in its depiction of a war-torn Europe, but the moral issues are simpler than Uglies, making the layers of the story much simpler for younger readers to understand.

I am also grateful for Keith Thompson's illustrations, which not only aided my trip into Leviathan's pages-- I got there via Huxley ascender, of course-- but they also helped my brain to make sense of some of the more amazing Steam-punk inventions and creatures. The walkers and the Leviathan itself practically marched and floated out of the pages once I really got into the novel. And you may or may not be familiar with my love of maps, real and imagined, so picture me staring at the endsheets (above) for about an hour. ;)

Yes, it ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, but without giving anything away, I must say I found some closure. And I know the second volume will be even better now that all the set-up is out of the way. So I highly recommend this book to anyone age 12 and up who is looking for a great adventure story.

While I'm waiting for the next installment, I'll have to check out some other Westerfeld books-- his Midnighters and Peeps, maybe. I'd love to hear what y'all think of his work.


Susan R. Mills said...

Thanks for sharing. I'm making a list of books for my son to read. He doesn't like to read, so whenever I hear of a good one. I add it to the list.


Nice review, I have this book in my TBR pile, hope to get to it soon!

Abby Annis said...

It's already on my list. I still haven't finished the Uglies series. I started it months ago, but my local Borders didn't get any new copies of Specials for several months, so I'm just not getting back into that. I love the artwork and maps too. Those are like book gravy. :) Great review!

Tere Kirkland said...

Susan, I think this one is a great choice for young guys. Yes, one of the mcs-- Deryn-- is a girl, but frankly, she's more manly than Alek. And all the Clanker and Darwin inventions will hopefully have him drooling for the next book like I am!

Eleni, hope you enjoy it!

Abby, I think I read Uglies, Pretties and Specials in the span of about a month. I may have to read them again from the beginning.
Mmmm, book gravy. *drools*

Abby Annis said...

Okay, that should say, "just now getting back into that". Not "not". I's a gud spelar.

Lisa and Laura said...

The cover on this book is just gorgeous. I've been admiring it at the bookstore. Looks like I'm going to have to pick it up!

MG Higgins said...

I didn't read your entire post, just in case there was a spoiler buried in there. Leviathan is on my husband's iPhone and I'm going to snatch it from him. I agree about Westerfeld's writing--he is an awesome storyteller.

Wendy Sparrow said...

OH! I saw the book trailer for this and really, really, really wanted to read it. That's awesome that it lived up to expectations.

Krispy said...

Meant to comment on this when I saw the post originally, but this book looks amazing! I'll have to put it in my already huge TBR pile, but uh, maybe near the top. Haha. Thanks!