Review: LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld


Author: Scott Westerfeld
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Year Published: 2009

Recommended: To anyone looking for light adventure and fun, and doesn’t run screaming in the other direction at the mention of steampunk.

Spoilers: Not really. I think.

My first exposure to this book was stumbling across the magnificent map that lies inside the covers (both front and back, which is good since the library tapes down the jacket and obscures about a third of each map, so you need to flip between them for the full effect). The countries of Europe are represented by either animals or machines, indicating their status as either Darwinists, who manipulate the ‘life threads’ of various species to create useful hybrids, or Clankers, who engineer great war machines. It’s Europe in the early days of WWI, if the British used giant hydrogen-filled whales and the Germans tromped around in the gears-and-steam versions of AT-STs.

The world is really where this novel sings. I admit I was far more interested in the time spent with the British, running across the myriad hybrids that make up the ecosystem of the Leviathan, the aforementioned giant flying whale. Of course, the protagonist on the British side of events is also tailor-made for me: tough girl, dressed as a boy to join the air force, confident, competent, often rash. Fun. Alek, the fictional son of the real Archduke Ferdinand, was less interesting simply by virtue of his circumstances: he’s on the run, and many of his scenes involve more explosions and running than character development. Once the story-lines converge, Alek got a lot more interesting, and I am looking forward to seeing what happens to him in the next book.

Which there obviously will be, since the end of LEVIATHAN is less an end and more of an exclamation: “Look, Captain! On the horizon! My God, it’s a sequel!”

I’ll gladly read the sequel, but if there was a major flaw, this was it. The story doesn’t stand on its own. It’s an origin story, the beginning of an adventure, and while it was a great deal of fun, it didn’t feel like a completed experience. How you feel when the book closes on the final page can be just as important as how you feel on the journey. After all, if the very last line leaves you with a foul taste in your mouth, are you going to pick up the next book?


There were a lot of things this book did with unusual skill. The protagonists are teenagers, and generally not in charge of what happens or even necessarily given much say over what they themselves do. However, there’s never a sense of following the wrong person in the story. Deryn has adventures while following orders, and Alek seems to be coming into his own as a commander and central figure in the war, even though he did nothing to put himself in that position in the first place. I also admired the amount of swearing that took place without ever saying a crude word; the invented vulgarity worked in the context of the world, and it was obvious whenever someone was being less than polite in conversation.

This book was an enormous amount of fun, and although I would have liked a more definitive ending and arc, I’m willing to treat it as half (or less) of a larger story. Because it’s that damn cool.


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