Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 7:33 PM

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Prince Aleksandar is on the run. The not-quite-legitimate son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his love-matched spouse Sophia, Aleksandar is a bright, curious young man - who is left bereft and fugitive after his parents are assassinated and the brewing political tensions explode into the Great War. Pursued by the Germans, who want to lock him up and remove him as a political threat to their march across Europe, Aleksandar must flee in the night in a Cyklop Stormwalker - you know, those walking war machines that every major royal family had in the backyard in those days.

Oh, wait...

Meanwhile, Deryn Sharp has entered the recruits of the British Air Service, and her anxieties are in order of: a) making sure no one figures out she's a girl b) beating the tar out of all the other recruits by showing the commanders her natural flying ability and c) not plunging to her death from the platform swinging under the tentacles of an increasingly twitchy Huxley ascender -- you know, those biologically-engineered military craft that are basically giant jellyfishes filled with helium (and are a favorite for scouting missions).

Hang on...

This is World War One through the looking glass, where the sides aren't just Allies and Central Powers but Clankers and Darwinists -- the split falling between those nations who put their faith in the machine versus those who have chosen to massage Nature into organically growing their weapons and tools.

This is Way Cool.

Westerfeld does world building like no other, and the chapters are studded with some truly beautiful Victorian-esque line drawings that really bring the universe to life - it's one thing to imagine the Leviathan, the massive British biological warship that's both giant flying whale and a great floating jungle ecosystem all at once -- but it's even better to see it on the page, rising majestically through the clouds.

I'm not generally a fan of 'war' novels, but the adventure action of this novel works for me because of Westerfeld's focus on his main characters, who are both unique and engaging. Stereotypes could have easily cropped up; it would have been simple to make Aleksandar into the Spoiled Royal Brat Tossed Among Commoners, but instead we get a thoughtful, responsible young man who's acutely aware of his own privileged upbringing as he struggles valiantly to adapt to a harsh reality. And Deryn is my second favorite Tough-As-Nails female narrator in recent YA lit -- first prize goes to Jacky Faber of L.A. Meyer's Bloody Jack series. Deryn may be out to prove something, but she doesn't let her swaggering get in the way of her sense, and she also sidesteps the tired Ice Queen road to emotional self-defense.

So, lots of action, dazzling illustrations, and a creative new twist on history that's definitely worth the price of admission (in my case, free - oh thank you, library books).

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