“Leviathan” by Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse, 2009)


Most people are familiar with the events that sparked the inception of World War I, namely the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo.  Leviathan begins with the assassination, but then goes on its own alternate history tangent where their son, Prince Aleksander, must flee with his loyal servants from those looking to kill him.  And then Westerfeld introduces the Clankers: great mechanical machines – some the size of small buildings – that travel across the European continent battling each other with their mighty guns.  Aleksander is traveling in the Cyklop Stormwalker.

Meanwhile, Westerfeld introduces Deryn Sharp, a teenage girl looking to be an airman in the British Air Service.  That’s right, airman, and she cuts her hair short and keeps herself disguised as a guy and soon joins the crew – through a string of unusual circumstances and adventures – of the great ship Leviathan.  The British are Darwinists, and instead of monstrous machines, they use genetically-engineered amalgamations of animals to create enormous creatures.  The Leviathan is a massive flying whale that houses an entire ecosystem, as well as a full crew within its mighty girth.

After an intense air battle, the Leviathan must flee, its injured body lumbering along, until it crash lands into the Alps, not too far from the Prince, who soon pays the strange creature a visit and our two heroes meet for the first time.  And as the creature heals itself and Deryn and Aleksander get to know each other, the first book comes to a close.  While the alternate, fantastic world setting is somewhat reminiscent of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Leviathan focuses more on setting the stage without dealing any epic punches, which will likely be made in successive books in the series.

Leviathan is a beautifully designed book, and deserves some awards for this, with its wonderfully Steampunk eye-catching cover, the inlay of the Darwinist/Clanker map of Europe, and the beautiful illustrations within the pages.  The story will capture you, the design entrance you, leaving you wanting the next book in the series.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on November 24th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

Upcoming Book Reviews for Episode 21

The following book reviews will be appearing on the BookBanter site with the new episode which will be up on December 1st:


Depraved by Bryan Smith

City of Night

Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein: Book Two City of Night by Dean Koontz

Dead and Alive

Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein: Book Three Dead and Alive by Dean Koontz


Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld’s “Leviathan”

Tomorrow I’ll be working on my review for Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, before I begin putting the next episode of BookBanter together, so I wanted to get a few thoughts down about it before I write the review, plus I’ll add a few thoughts and ideas that likely won’t make it into the review.  It’s why there’s a blog.

Levithan is an alternate history set during the beginning of World War I, kicking the book off with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, leaving Prince Aleksander on his own.  He lives in a strange world of Clankers: giant mechanical machines of varying sizes.  Back in jolly old Britain is Deryn Sharp, who is training to be an airman in the British Air Service.  Yep, that’s right, airman; only men are allowed in the service, so Deryn cuts her hair short and keeps herself disguised.  Britain is on the side of the Darwinists, who have giant beast that are a genetic amalgamation of different creatures.  The Leviathan of the title is in fact a giant gene-crossed sperm whale upon which Deryn is an airman.  The Levithan finds itself caught in an impressive air battle with the German Clankers, causing it to flee into the alps where it conveniently crashes not too far from Prince Aleksander, which is how the two main characters meet.

The book reminded me in a number of ways Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, no surprise really with the alternate history/fantasy world.  And my main complaint with the book would be while the setting was epic and impressive like Pullman’s world, the complex undertone and storyline wasn’t there, if anything the story seemed a little too simple.  But at the moment I’m putting this down to Leviathan being the first book in the series, where the second will open up the stage to something epic and mind-blowing like His Dark MaterialsLeviathan also reminded me of Naomi Novik’s successful Temeraire series also.  With how much story and set-up Westerfeld has done, the next few books in the series — I think — are really going to blow this whole thing out of the water, so to speak.

The other great thing about Leviathan is the work and care that has gone on with the book design, with the eye-catching Steampunkish cover, the type layout, the beautiful illustrations, the inlay design.  It’s a work of art that anyone would appreciate on their bookshelf.


10/24 On the Bookshelf . . .

Over the last couple of days I received the following three books, all of which I’m looking forward to reading.  Will be tackling The Box as soon as I’m done with Ray Bradbury’s Halloween Tree, to continue with the spirit of horror.  But I’m really looking forward to Leviathan, which has just the most amazingly awesome cover, and is also illustrated with all things wonderfully steampunk.

The Box Makers Leviathan