Week 23–Leviathan

Leviathan is the second book by Scott Westerfeld that I’ve read in recent months, and I have to say that it is at least ten times better than Uglies.  While the premises are equally creative, Leviathan blows Uglies out of the water.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=1416971742&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifrIt is the steampunk re-imagining of World War I, in which Austria-Hungary and other eastern European nations rely on heavy machinery, and Britain uses ship made of animals and powered by hydrogen.  This sounds pretty crazy, and it is.  More details to follow.

There are two main story lines that begin on opposite sides of Europe.  The first follows Alek, the son of Archduke Ferdinand, who, once his father and mother are killed in Sarajevo, must flee from his palace and those who wish him dead in a “walker,” a giant humanoid machine in which multiple men can ride, and is steered by a pilot from within.  The slang term for the “mechanik” tradition from which Alek hails is “Clanker,” for in addition to the walkers, there are giant metal machines that crawl about the land on eight legs, carrying huge guns and possessing immense firepower.  The other story line follows Dereyn, or “Dylan,” a girl who disguises herself as a boy so that she may enter the British air service and fly their “Darwinist” machines.  Darwinists have taken Darwin’s principle of survival of the fittest and applied it in the lab.  They mix advantageous traits from multiple animals and use the products of these experiments for warfare and labor. For instance, the Leviathan is a giant air-ship which uses hydrogen to stay afloat, and animals to provide the hydrogen. The ship itself is made from the living flesh of a whale.  They’ve also created lizards that can mimic the human voice, much as a parrot can, for communication about the ship.  It’s quite interesting to read about all the different animal creations.

Eventually the paths of these two characters cross, as they both find themselves thrust aboard the Leviathan at different times and under very different circumstances.  Both have secrets which they are tempted to tell the other, but are forced to keep in order to preserve their safety.  When the Leviathan comes under attack, they must utilize the best pieces of both Clanker and Darwinist technologies to survive the battle.

As I said, the book is wildly creative.  Fortunately there are illustrations to go along with the novel, because much of it would be confusing without a drawing to depict what the author is describing.  The drawings are beautifully done, and really give both the plot and the genre itself body and life.

That said, there are a few things that were unbelievable to me.  Naturally one is required to suspend disbelief in order to truly enjoy science-fiction, but several things continuously bothered me, like: why on Earth would a superpower like Britain build an entire navy using ships powered by something so very flammable?  They can’t even use guns because of the fear of sparks.  Now, we of course use flammable fossil fuels to power our war machines, and those aren’t much better, but throughout the novel the Leviathan is constantly threatened to a ridiculous degree by sparks and other things which could turn the whole ship and the air around it into a powder keg.  Also, bats that crap razor blades as weapons? Creative, but not at all plausible.  Seems like a reach to me. Although it’s funny.

Finally, the book doesn’t end. Possibly my greatest pet-peeve of all time, Westerfeld leaves the novel hanging, requiring the reader to immediately rush out and read the next book if they are to discover what new and powerful Darwinist creation the mysterious eggs within the hold of the Leviathan contain.  Still, despite these two negatives, I enjoyed the book immensely.  The genre is fantastic, and I’m really happy to see a bestselling author put it into the mainstream. This book is a definite must-read for fans of YA and sci-fi alike.

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One thought on “Week 23–Leviathan

  1. […] in the year I reviewed Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan, a novel that had its flaws, but which I ultimately loved.  Behemoth was no different.  There is […]

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