Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.
Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.
With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.
Why I read it: I’d heard of Westerfeld’s Ugly series, which is near the top of my TBR pile, so when I saw this sitting at the library I though I’d check it out.
What I liked: I haven’t read much steampunk, but this is certainly one of my new favourite genres. I love the idea of alternate history. While Leviathan wasn’t very alternate, that almost made it cooler, since it was kind of like historical fiction only a ton more interesting. Plus, the time leading up to WW1 was probably my favourite period in the history course I just took, so I love how this story concentrated on the (fictional) son of the Austrian archduke who was assassinated to start the war.
I loved the creatures and machines that Westerfeld invents. There are huge machines that walk like animals (very Star-wars) and gigantic ‘fabricated’ animals that work with engines like machines. I loved how he took two characters, one who loved the machines and the other who loved the animals, to show the different sides of the new technology. This story was illustrated, which meant that we could see pictures of the beasties and so he didn’t need to waste too much space describing everything. In short, I think Westerfeld writes steampunk very well.
What I disliked: A lot of people have pointed this out already, but I’ll say it again: The characters feel really young. Instead of 15-16, they feel more like 12-13. I still liked them and they felt real, but I didn’t quite connect with them like I wanted. I never got much emotion from either of them. While I was actually relieved that there wasn’t any romance (though I’m sure there will be in later books) there weren’t many high-tension scenes, either, except for one where Deryn almost tells Alek who she is.
For a 450 page book I was expecting a little more plot. It didn’t really feel draggy but now, looking back on it, I see that very little happened. In fact, it’s not until page 400 that the last plot point from the cover synopsis is mentioned. I was expecting them to get together fairly soon, but the book’s half done before they meet and virtually done before they’re together on the Leviathan. While it was all interesting and well written, it could have been much shorter.
From a Christian Perspective: In terms of violence, sexual content and profanity this book does quite well. There may have been a few quick swear words, but mostly the characters used other exclamations like ‘barking spiders!’ There was a bit of violence but nothing graphic and no sexual content at all.
On the other hand, this story treats evolution as real. The huge animal/machine things are all ‘fabricated,’ meaning that they’re grown from their ‘life threads’ in a lab, combining species. England, France and the other allies are called the ‘Darwinists.’ I know this is just a story but I still didn’t like the emphasis on evolution.
To buy or not to buy: I think I’ll pick up the sequel, Behemoth, because I want to find out what happens next. However, I don’t think I’ll get this book. A book needs to have a real page-turning plot for me to want to read it again, but this one felt more like MG to me.