Simon Pulse, 2010
Though its been a little over a year since I read Leviathan I was still pretty excited to get by hands on Scott Westefeld’s Behemoth. Before I even describe the novel I need to take a moment to say that whoever was in charge of cover art for this book should be fired; without question. For a novel sprinkled with the wonderful art of Kieth Thompson the steaming pile that they dumped on the cover is an affront to artists, or anyone with a modicum of taste, everywhere. It’s absolutely atrocious and does nothing to even hint at the adventure and excitement between its pages. (Note: It should be noted that the forthcoming third novel is blighted by a similar, IMO much worse, bit of nastiness).
Behemoth picks up right where Leviathan left off as the massive airship/beast makes its way towards Constantinople/Istanbul. Alek, heir to the Archduke Ferdinand, and his remaining men are serving about the Leviathan keeping the engines they donated to the ship up and running. Of course the ship soon runs into trouble in the form of two German boats whose attack comes close to crippling the great airship. By the time Leviathan does make it to Istanbul the situation, already exasperated by the British having “borrowed” a war machine built by the Sultan, is much worse than anyone could have expected. Soon Alek and Midshipman Dylan (the masquerading girl Deryn) alone and cornered in Clanker controlled territory.
Thankfully Behemoth answers one of my minor quibbles from the first volume by slowing down just a bit to linger with our two leads; whether they are alone or together. Alek and Deryn make a fantastic team and while Leviathan took its time in tossing them together the friendship between Alek and Deryn really takes center stage in Behemoth. Westerfeld does an apt job of conveying what is in truth a fairly complex situation in an easily digestible manner (Deryn masquerading as Dylan helping the son of the deceased Archduke whose Empire the British are currently warring against). The conflict of interest there makes for some nice introspection that adds a bit of spice to the action.
Westerfeld does a neat job in breathing a little steampunk into the (already frequently romanticized) Istanbul. Ostensibly Istanbul is a mechanized city, heavily influenced by German powers, but where the walkers and other automatons seen earlier were more straightforward the automatons of Istanbul replicate animals or mythological creatures. The various districts of the city under the control of different ethnic groups are guarded by unarmed walkers that are drawn from different mythological stories like Golems that guard the Jewish districts. Other neat touches like the giant automaton the mimics the sultan’s every move or the dragon shaped Oriental Express add a lot of flavor to the city.
Both Deryn and Alek show growth over the course of the novel. Each of the leads gets a moment to shine in the spotlight and exercise their own brand of independence of initiative. I felt that Westerfeld still paints a more vivid picture of the bright and adventurous Deryn. However, it was neat to note that some of the adventurousness, or maybe recklessness, rubbed off on Alek and it was fun to watch him finally start to do some things on his own. I rather enjoy the “Lady Boffin” and get the feeling that she is pushing events far more than anyone really expects.
Behemoth, like Leviathan before it, is a light-hearted adventure tale sure to excite even the most reluctant of readers. As in the previous volume Westerfeld includes a brief afterward to explain where his version of history deviates from the real world. I hardily encourage all readers to judge Behemoth’s cover harshly but would kindly recommend the same NOT be extended to what lies beneath it. I looking forward to seeing Alek, Deryn, and the Leviathan again when Goliath arrives in September.