Leviathan and its sequel, Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld, have been big hits so far in the YA book community. My husband, my teenage son, and I are all thoroughly enjoying this exciting series set in a unique world.
The novels take place in an alternate reality during the time of World War I. In this alternate place, the world is split into two main factions: the Clankers and the Darwinists. The Clankers, mainly Germany and Austria-Hungary, have enormous steam-driven machines, heavily armored and ready for battle. The Darwinists, led by Britain and enabled by the early DNA research of Charles Darwin, have developed genetically modified animals as their “machines”. The Leviathan is a living, breathing airship that is its own ecosystem, formed in part by a huge whale.
The two main characters of the series are young teens, each on separate sides of the growing conflict. Deryn Sharp is a young girl, disguised as a boy, in the British Air Service. She’s got excellent skills but is in constant danger of her secret being revealed. Alek is the prince of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire but is on the run with a small crew of loyal men in their Stormwalker.
It’s an exciting, fast-paced story, filled with fascinating details of the bizarre technologies used by both sides, as the reader gets to know and care about both Deryn and Alek, whose paths eventually cross.
I listened to Leviathan on audio and read the written edition of Behemoth. Although the audio was excellent, with convincing British and Austrian accents by the narrator, this is one case where I think I would recommend the written form. The reason? The spectacular illustrations in the books, drawn by Keith Thompson. The detailed black and white drawings really add a lot to the story, especially in helping the reader to visualize some of the bizarre creations of the Darwinists and the Clankers. I pored over every illustration eagerly and even referred often to the written book while I listened to the audio.
Kids and teens who love adventure, especially fans of steampunk, will love this thrilling series (though it’s classified as YA, I think older middle-grade readers will enjoy the series as well). The hardcover editions are especially nice (you just can't help but run your hands over the textured covers) and would make a wonderful gift. We can’t wait for the next book!
464 pages, Simon Pulse