When I picked up this book, I was surprised to find that Scott Westerfeld was the author, because I have been meaning to read his series Uglies for a while now. But when I saw Leviathan, this book jumped the “Must Read” list. I am anything but sorry about this decision.
Leviathan is slightly difficult to categorize because it fits into a number of different genres: young adult, science fiction, historical fiction (is alternate universe history a genre?), to name a few. It tells the story of World War I, which begins with the murder of an Archduke and his wife. But in this version of the story, the war is between the Clankers (who are all about advanced technology) and the Darwinists (who are all about using evolution and DNA splicing to create animals to do what technology does). Prince Aleksander is the heir to the throne but must flee for his life after his parents’ murder because the current ruler of Austria does not want him to inherit. With the help of a few loyal men, he flees his home and goes on the run with only a Stormwalker (a machine that is basically an enormous robot with space for people inside) for protection. Meanwhile, Deryn Sharp (a Darwinist) has always loved flying, thanks to her father who used to take her up in hot air balloons when she was younger. Now she wants to become a pilot (certainly not the lady her mother would like her to be) so she pretends to be a boy and secretly enlists in the air force. Deryn and Aleksander’s paths cross and find that despite being from opposing countries they may have to work together to survive.
This book is one of the most imaginative and creative books I have read in a while. Westerfeld has created two very unique and very specific sides of the war–how the Clankers are piloted for example is a complicated fete of skill and instinct and the Darwinist airships are even more complicated in how they have been created to be self sustaining through interdependence of species–but added even more complex motivations and moral questions. Who do you trust in times of war? Do you keep your promise at the risk of other people? Is the genetic manipulation that the Darwinists do ethical (or just plain gross)?
Sometimes I wanted more description and explanation of how things worked or what they looked like. At times I had a hard time picturing the things being talked about (and the illustrations included were a bit too hazy to really help clarify things). Despite this lack, I really liked the book. Deryn is strong and funny, making her an easy character to root for. Aleksander takes a little bit more time to get used to because he starts out as something of a spoiled prince, but he slowly develops into a trustworthy, noble person who could grow up to be an excellent prince.
The sequel is well set up, with a few mysteries still left unanswered (like who exactly the mysterious and clever female doctor, Dr. Barlow is and why she has been picked up by Deryn’s ship) and there’s a blooming love story to come (how and when will Aleksander find out that Deryn is a girl and how will he react?