Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

November 3rd, 2009 by Brian Leave a reply »

This is one that I had been waiting for for a long time. In my opinion there are not enough books out there about giant robots.

In addition, there are many more books about World War II than World War I. I wonder if it’s because more veterans from WWII are alive, or if our perceptions of the war have clearer boundaries between right and wrong, or maybe it’s because Indiana Jones fought Nazis and we all want to be like Harrison Ford.

Leviathan is a steampunk version of World War I. The Clankers (Westerfeld has such a knack for fun to say words) consist of the Austrians, Germans, and Ottoman Empire. Alek is a Clanker, trained in the art of fighting with giant robots. Steampunk is a subgenre of sci-fi, with the technology being more like Jules Verne and from that transition into the 20th century. The Clanker mechs run off of kerosene, steam, an a whole lot of levers and gears.

The other side fights with genetically engineered whales. I mean, obviously.

You do have the two perspectives, one protagonist from Clanker, the other from Darwinist, and of course they’re going to cross paths – this is a YA book. Deryn has a whole Mulan thing going on, hiding the fact that she’s a girl so that she can enlist for the Darwinist forces. We’ve seen that plot hook done many times before, but it’s a necessity if you’re talking British military from 1914. We’ve also seen the shipwrecked airship mixed with a feisty female scientist, like Ken Oppel’s Airborn series.

Even though many parts of Westerfeld’s book are tropes used in other stories, Westerfeld still puts his fun spin on them for an enjoyable book. Another fun aspect is looking up the real life events and people from World War I to further explore this alternate history. It is a series; I am anxiously awaiting book two. The first booktalks today for book one drew a lot of student interest.


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