Scott Westerfeld with art by Keith Thompson
Forthcoming Simon Pulse, 2009 (October 6)
In my continuing exploration of several Steampunk titles this month my signed ARC from BEA of Westerfeld’s Leviathan marks my first and only foray into a YA steampunk title. Which is regrettable since Leviathan is an exciting novel full of imagination, adventure, and excitement in spades. Leviathan starts in June of 1914 as the fictional son of Archduke Ferdinand, Aleksander, is whisked away on the eve of his parents murder. Loaded into a Stormwalker, a mechanized military walker, he and his two mentors flee towards the Swiss border. Meanwhile, young Deryn Sharp disguises herself as a boy in order to enter the British air service whose genetically engineered animals take the place of the mechanized constructs of the Austrian empire. Deryn, thanks to a mishap involving the a jellyfish-based air creature, finds herself aboard the titular Leviathan and airship composed mostly out of a whale but in truth a living ecosystem unto itself.
If all that sounds wildly imaginative then you’d be absolutely correct. It is also a joy to read.
UPDATE THE 3rd: Nor misspelling the book’s title. Madre de Dios!
UPDATE THE 2nd:
You can order print of the Alex & His Stormwalker picture via Keith Thompson’s website HERE. Pretty cool if you ask me.
Also you might want to check out Scott Westerfeld’s blog HERE.
And we shan’t mention my egregious misspelling of the author’s name in my original post. **sigh**
UPDATE: Here is the much awesomer cover art on the ARC (dunno why amazon’s cover art is not this one):
Also you might want to check out the book trailer:
Before I get into the wonderful world Westerfeld has cobbled together from real-life history and his own imagination let me start with our two leads: Deryn and Aleksander. In each Westefield has crafted two characters cut from the same cloth but with wildly different backgrounds and personalities. I admit to being a fan of the plucky female hero and Deryn fits that mold to a T. There is a certain matter-of-fact quality to her personality that is refreshing and that is easily carried by the litany of original colloquialisms that Westerfeld has cooked up and the language he uses when Deryn speaks. The looseness of her tongue and the rapid-fire rhythm of her dialogue is in stark contrast to the more measured tones and careful consideration that Westerfeld uses during Aleksander’s chapters. While Aleksander frequently reveals the depth of his sheltered lifestyle I was surprised to find the character far less grating then I ought to. I mean, Aleksander is the type of arrogant, holier-than-thou, type of individual that should grate on ones nerves. Yet, instead of being annoyed, I found that his constable fumbles to relate to the “common man” endearing. It helps that Westerfeld goes out of his way to show that Aleksander is not only willing to keep an open mind about his sudden change in situation but also is also a highly intelligent and formidable individual in his own right. While I found the initial back and forth every two chapters or so between Deryn and Aleksander a bit off-putting at first the inevitable collision of both narratives sent the novel galloping towards its conclusion.
I absolutely love the world that Westerfeld has created here. Sure the basis is firmly in our own history but with enough tweaks to make it something special. As Westerfeld states in his afterward it is “our possible future written as our past” (or something along those lines). Basically Westerfelds worlds consists of two big factions the first of which is the “Darwinists”; who adhere almost religious to the power and necessity of the ecosystem and belief in survival of the fittest. The Charles Darwin of Westerfeld’s story not only proposed evolution but discovered the existence of, and the means to manipulate DNA. As such the British, fed up with the pollution and noise of the industrial age, begin to replace their economic, military, and industrial infrastructures with specially bred genetically engineered animals. So you get things like the insect/dog hybrid methane sniffers on the Leviathan, floating hot air balloons based on jellyfish, glowing worms to provide light, and the Leviathan itself. I admit the six-legged dogs kind of creeped me out but there were some truly wonderful and clever animal combinations here. Also Westerfeld is quick to point out, via the inclusion of now extinct Tasmanian tiger, that nature herself isn’t above some truly odd creations. The other faction, the Clankers, consisting of the Ottoman’s as well as Austria and her allies, abhor the British manipulation of “natural” order and instead build metal creations that walk and fly (also often inspired by animals). Oddly, despite being a steampunk novel, the British side gets a bit more focus here. Keith Thompson’s stunning black and white art does gives up some up close and evocative images of both the Darwinist and Clanker creations and, as far as the latter is concerned, certainly has me wishing we spent some more time behind the controls of Aleksander’s Stormwalker.
I truth I can’t see Leviathan not being a huge success. Steampunk as a genre and an ascetic has only been growing in popularity and I thinking that Westerfeld’s novel will only serve to thrust it further into the mainstream’s eyes. I almost want to blast the novel for not being long enough but at 448 pages that might be a bit of a stretch though I admit there were times that I wish Westerfeld had slowed down a bit to give us more quiet times with his characters; particularly once the Alex and Deryn sections converge. Leviathan reveals an exciting world full of wondrous sights and I can hardly complain that the author crafted a world I didn’t really want to leave once the cover was closed. If you like imaginative worlds with great characters and fast-paced action then keep your eyes on Leviathan; it won’t disappoint.