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