Review: Leviathan

The way some reviewers are talking about this book, it’s as if the book dispenses free cuddles* with milk and cookies. Steampunk, as you might already know, really isn’t my thing, I’ll dip my toes in it for a bit, but I’m a bigger fan of food porn than technology porn, so I usually give adult steampunk novels a pass.

However, I decided to make an exception when I saw Leviathan had airships made out of whales, because that’s just awesome.

Put simply, Leviathan is barking awesome!

Leviathan is set in an alternate Europe circa 1914. The world is divided by two competing philosophies: the Darwinists, who use genetically-engineered animal hybrids “beasties” and the Clankers, who use sophisticated machines, denouncing the Darwinist creations as abominations. Oblivious to most of the political wrangling is Alek, son of Archduke Ferdinand and Princess Sophie (you can guess where this is headed, can’t you?) who suddenly finds his world turned upside down when he is forced to flee Austria with a Clanker contraption and a small band of men. On the Darwinist side, Deryn Sharp is a girl who enters the British Air Service by disguising herself as a boy. As fate would have it, the two of them find themselves aboard the Leviathan–a living airship fabricated from the DNA of a whale, but can these two enemies put aside their differences in time to save the ship–and, eventually, the world itself–from complete annihilation?

You know h0w I like to describe other books as roller coaster rides? Forget what I said about those other books. This book grabs you, straps you in, and never stops until the very last page (where it leaves you wanting more). Yep, a real roller coaster ride basically this book is like sex. It took me a couple weeks to read Magic’s Price because it was so slow, it took a matter of days to read this book, it just goes, and goes, and goes. One moment you’re on page one and the next, you’re at chapter ten, like that.

The writing is, as you might expect for a steampunk-esque novel, crammed with a lot of description of the various whatsits and doodads that make up the world, but it’s so vivid that oftentimes I didn’t need to look at the (really cool black and white) illustrations to imagine how a Huxley  squid-jellyfish used for air surveillance moved or the size of the Leviathan (and imagining the size of large objects is something I usually have trouble with in books).

If there’s one thing Westerfeld is good at, it’s communicating tension through writing. The book reads like an action movie. (Seriously, why isn’t this being made into a movie?) The action scenes are just the right mix of crazy and awesome that will have you biting your nails at times.

I mean, if you weren’t sold by the crazy awesomeness that is World War I WITH GIANT FLYING SKY WHALES AND BIPEDAL TANKS!

If the book has one weakness, it’s the characters. In a nutshell, Alek is bit of a royal brat who knows five languages and can’t even communicate in the language of his own people to buy a newspaper, and Deryn is a Tomboy who HATES ALL THE GIRLY THINGS! (Not unexpected, considering her circumstances, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.) I do like that she spends the whole book kicking a whole lot of ass, none of this needing to be rescued clart. If she’s in trouble, she rescues herself, and at one point she even takes Alek hostage (so, which one’s in distress, now?). There are a couple of interesting side characters (including, yes, an eccentric scientist) but the focus is definitely on the action.

Also, they have entirely appropriate slang that manages to sound period-appropriate and steampunk-esque at the same time. I like saying “clart”, it has a nice ring to it.

Oh, and I almost forgot the best part: NO BARKING LOVE TRIANGLE, AT ALL! There’s barely even a hint of romance until Deryn has a “what is this I’m feeling?” moment, and then you roll your eyes and it’s over.

In sum, if you like books that read like action movies, alternate history type things, or you just think the idea of giant flying sky whales is awesome, pick this book up. Even if you don’t think giant flying sky whales are awesome, pick this book up, maybe you will like the talking lizards, or the weaponized bat guano, or, I suppose, you could be in it for the Clanker contraptions, but who needs glorified tin cans when you have giant flying whale-machine things that are their own ecosystem?

Not that I have anything against machines, just: giant flying sky whales.

*I was going to say something a bit more crude, but Leviathan is a young adult novel.

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