Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


World War I is on the horizon and the European powers are gearing up. On one side are the Clankers, who live and breathe machines. On the other side are the Darwinists, whose weaponry consist of fabricated animals. Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run, after his father was murdered and his own people have turned against him. All he has is a battle-torn Stormwalker and a loyal crew of men. Deryn Sharp, is a commoner and a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. When their paths cross in the most unexpected way, they go on an adventure aboard the Leviathan.

Leviathan is the first steampunk novel I read, and I was very unsure of how I would find it. Besides, alternate reality is not some thing I usually enjoy. I like my history untouched and untainted, thank you. But all these elements together worked really well for me. I was absolutely fascinated by the world in which Leviathan is set in. There is enough history in this book to anchor the reader to the specific time period and the catalyst that kicks off the World War I. But it is not overdone so I didn't really have to worry much about my history getting messed-up.

Leviathan is alternately told from Alek's and Deryn's viewpoints. One is a boy, the other a girl. One is from a Clanker country, the other from a Darwinist country. Both speak English differently and uses different idioms. And when they meet up, each struggle with the other's manner of speaking. I loved how both characters remained strong and authentic all the way to the end. They behaved as they would. Scott Westerfeld adds more credibility to Alek's mannerisms by using spellings that reflect their time and language, such as "mechanikal". Deryn especially impressed me with her oh-so-hilarious humor sense. Although she is disguised as a boy, I never felt that she was so boyish that I forgot that fact. Instead, I saw a character who acted boyish enough to fool the others, and yet thinking like a girl as she went through her duties as a midshipman.
Deryn had always reckoned herself a tomboy, between Jaspert's bullying and Da's balloon training. But running with the other middies was more than just punchups and tying knots - it was like joining a pack of dogs. They jostled and banged for the best seats at the middies' mess table. They taunted each other over signal reading and navigation scores, and whom the officers had complimented that day. They endlessly competed to see who could spit farther, drink rum faster, or belch the loudest.

It was bloody exhausting, being a boy.

At the core, Leviathan is not just a fantasy story set in WW1. It is also about machines looking like living creatures vs living creatures being used as machines. Clankers find the Darwinist creations surreal. I agreed with them too. Fabricated animals of the magnitude mentioned in Leviathan are not going to find acceptance in a world where even cloning for medicinal reasons is frowned upon. The Clanker inventions however resemble giant versions of humans, and animals, including some eight-legged machines. While this way of life is a lot easier to imagine, considering that we live in a world dominated by machines, we do see several cons to the Clanker inventions as well. I liked how Scott Westerfeld used this novel to encourage a debate between the two sides.

I read this book with Kai @ Fiction State of Mind in a read-and-tweet-along approach. Although we had a three hour time gap between us, we were still able to read at the same time. It was plenty of fun, and we interviewed each other about how we felt about the readalong! Read my interview here. Below is Kai's response:

What are your thoughts on our readalong? Did you enjoy it as much as you expected to?
I really enjoyed the readalong. I do well with accountability! If I agree to something I really follow thru. My TBR pile is overwhelming so this helped to get one book down.
We really should do a readathon-readalong. Get together with books we both want to read, sit/tweet together and read! Aah, the possible dent in my TBR! While we read, did you find tweeting a distraction?
No. I mostly enjoyed the tweeting when something exciting happened in the book or to share an opinion. Reading is a solitary occupation and usually I have to wait for Blog reviews to gush or complain about a book, with Twitter I could share my opinions right away.
Amen sista! I loved talking about it real-time! Should you choose to do this again, what would you change about the way the read-and-tweet-along was done?
The only thing I would change would be to try to find a reading group guide. I think it would be fun to have some post read discussion topics. I think it would also be fun to add more twitter readers. Hope we can do it again soon :)
I hope so too, Kai!! 

Check out this book published by Simon & Schuster (Simon Pulse) @ Goodreads, BetterWorldBooks, Amazon, B&N.

I borrowed this book from my library.

7 comments:

Roof Beam Reader said...

Great review! I like your format quite a bit - makes it very interesting to read. The book sounds quite good too. I always think it's great when I pick up a novel that I wouldn't normally choose and end up loving the heck out of it (Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen comes to mind, for me).

Glad to be a new follower!

bermudaonion said...

Carl enjoyed this book, but I'm not sure steampunk is for me. I hope to give it a try one day. The readalong sounds like fun.

Emidy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emidy said...

From what I remember, I like Westerfeld's writing. So I'd love to check this book out! It wouldn't interest me normally, but since you liked it, it has to be a good one. Excellent review, Aths!

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

What a fun idea :) I've been wanting to read this one :)

Helen's Book Blog said...

This book has been on the periphery of my mind; I am not a huge fantasy reader. But, it just won an award and I enjoyed his other books.... Thanks for the review!

Stephanie aka The Stark Raving Bibliophile said...

What an awesome review, Aths! You expressed exactly how I felt about this book. It was my first steampunk novel, and I was glad there was enough authentic history to keep me anchored but not so much that I got caught up in worrying whether the author got it right. :-)