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.