I’ve been a fan of Scott Westerfeld since his Uglies Trilogy (fantastic sci-fi YA dystopia series), and so I had pretty high expectations when I picked up Leviathan. Right away, those expectations were raised even higher–the book just looks fantastic. The map on the inside flap, illustrations throughout: this looks and feels like an awesome book.
Thankfully, the content keeps up with the form.
It’s a steampunk WWI alternate history novel, and if that doesn’t sound like awesome incarnate to you, your Awesome Incarnate Meter is broken, and you should really look into getting it replaced.
In this version of history, Darwin discovered not just the concept of evolution, but he figured out how to speed it up, creating all sorts of interesting, useful animals. England, Russia, Japan–these countries have embraced this new technology. On the other side, you’ve got Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire–countries which have devoted themselves to machines and gears. So “Darwinists” vs. “Clunkers.”
The first book introduces two main characters: Deryn (a girl pretending to be a boy so she can serve on a Darwinist airship (essentially an flying whale), and Alek (the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, on the run from German assassins).
Westerfeld does a fantastic job keeping the plot rolling along, but what makes this series stand out even more to me is how fully realized the setting and background seemed to be. You’ve got historical figures and scenarios blending with these fully realized alternate technologies. It’s fun to see the different ways the Clankers and Darwinists have come up with for dealing with common everyday problems. (Disclaimer: I’m not extremely well-read when it comes to steampunk, so for all I know, Westerfeld is just playing on well worn tropes. But the books are aimed at the younger YA set, so his prime audience wouldn’t be extremely well-read in steampunk, either. So it all works out, regardless.)
The books are good clean fun, great for a fast, entertaining read. My eight year old son’s working his way through the second now, too. He loves them for the plot and illustrations, and he’s now dead-set on getting over to Germany and Austria so that he can see if they really have cool machines there. (He’s reluctant to believe my claims that they do not, in fact, have those machines.)