Book Recommendation: Leviathan

16 Sep

By Jenn Fitzgerald


I’d seen a couple quotes form Leviathan bouncing around and decided to take a closer look. I picked it up in the bookstore and had to pry my eyes away, twenty pages later, when I realized I had to go home to feed myself (I have this problem where I get sucked into books and don’t eat). Needless to say, the book came home with me.

Steampunk, freaky bioengineering, and an alternative history of World War I. I shouldn’t have to say anything else, you should already be going out to get your own copy. But in case that’s not enough, here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

The pacing was spot-on, the story moved along quickly and the various actions scenes were fast-paced and fun. When it did pause for description, it was a welcome break to take in the oddities of Westerfeld’s Europe. The world building in Leviathan was great; I loved all the different machines and creatures, they were well thought-out and well designed. The descriptions were clear and engaging and occasionally so bizarre that I was as sucked in as the characters—in short, they never felt like info dumps.

The political situation at the beginning of the books is essentially the same as it was in the real 1914, which I liked because it grounded the book enough to make the world recognizable while at the same time fantastic, with technological and biological capabilities far beyond our own. I look forward to seeing how things differ from here on out.

The characters feel younger than they’re supposed to be, and the pictures of Alek don’t help here. They read like eighth graders, not high school sophomores. I can partially explain this away with remembering that they’re Edwardian teenagers and not working class either, so they should be less mature than modern teenagers, more sheltered and all that. I don’t really care that they read young, so that’s just a warning to those of you who might have a problem with it.

As for the characters, Alek is a spoiled little brat at first, in need of a good smack. Which he gets in a couple forms. But he grows. By the end of the book I adored him and wanted to bake him cookies. He can be thoughtless, but he tries to do the right things. Deryn is almost the same way, she tries to balance duty to her friends with duty to her country, occasionally bumbling things a bit. She comes across as posturing a little too much, but I think her attitude is pretty realistic given that she has to consciously act like a boy at all times. The secondary characters are a fun array of quirky people, from the arrogant Count Volger, to the dangerously clever scientist, Nora Barlow, (who might be my favorite).

The one thing that did kind of annoy me sometimes was the slang. Clart worked as a substitution for cursing, but barking spiders and bum-rag not as much. I think that might have contributed to the characters feeling younger than they are. This is YA, surely they could have let them say asswipe now and again. Also, there’s tons of fun early 20th Century slang that I’d have liked to see more of, if they’re going to avoid today’s standard four letter words.

All in all it was a good book, fun, entertaining, a quick read, and it made me want more. When I finished Leviathan, I was seriously peeved to find out that the next book in the series, Behemoth, doesn’t come out until October. When it does, I’ll find a way to get my hands on it and read it, even if it means skipping some homework, and that’s about as good an endorsement as I can imagine.


Jennifer Fitzgerald is the author of a middle grade fantasy novel, PRISCILLA THE EVIL, which she is currently querying. She is also is a Ph.D student in archaeology, focusing on East Asia. You can visit her blog here or follow her on Twitter.


17 Responses to “Book Recommendation: Leviathan”

  1. Theresa Milstein September 16, 2010 at 7:20 AM #

    I haven’t read any Steampunk yet. I’ve heard good things about this book, so I bought it for my son, who was eleven when he read it. He didn’t love it, but maybe Steampunk isn’t his thing. It’s on my to-read pile.

    My favorite cursing was “bleep” in Paranormalcy. Clever way to get around the swearing debate.

    • jenn fitzgerald September 16, 2010 at 10:24 AM #

      Yeah, I can see steampunk being a genre that doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I’m glad you’re still going to give it a try 🙂

      I think my favorite substitution for cursing was ‘cuss’ in the movie of The Fantastic Mr. Fox. It worked surprisingly well to have them shouting “Cuss you, you cuss!” at each other.

      • Julie Eshbaugh September 16, 2010 at 10:54 AM #

        Hey Jenn! Love this book! Great recommendation, since I think a lot of readers are interested in investigating steampunk but don’t know what books are good examples or enjoyable reads. As for me, if I could wake up tomorrow to find the world had transformed into a steampunk culture overnight, I’d be nothing less than thrilled! Great post!

        • jenn fitzgerald September 16, 2010 at 11:39 AM #

          Julie I totally agree on both points! I really wanted to find some steampunk to read for a while and I think a steampunk world would rock! Goggles and top hat for everyone 😀

          • Vanessa September 16, 2010 at 2:41 PM #

            YES! Goggles and top hats and parasols! :p lol

            I love the whole steampunk culture – it’s so fascinating. I really enjoyed Leviathan. At FanExpo, there were so many people dressed up all steampunk, and I LOVED it! They just looked so absolutely incredible!

            • jenn fitzgerald September 16, 2010 at 4:05 PM #

              I love when people dress up in steampunk! they pick out all the awesome elements of Victorian fashion and the mix is great, and they normally have such fun gadgets with them

  2. Julie Eshbaugh September 16, 2010 at 11:00 AM #

    Oh, and I wanted to add my thoughts on substitutes for cursing! Recently I saw a broadcast-television version of Wedding Crashers, and in order to delete the constant exclamations of Vince Vaughn of “Jesus Christ!” they substituted “cheese and rice!” For some reason this struck everyone in my family and we all used it for about 48 hours, when it suddenly became annoying and we all agreed to drop it. 🙂

    • samanthabina September 16, 2010 at 11:08 AM #

      This has nothing to do with cursing, but along similar lines…

      My mom and I were watching House Hunters International a few weeks ago, and the couple looking for a house lived in Canada. You know that scene at the end of the episode, where the crew goes back to see the house after the people have lived there for a little while? Well, the husband was making his wife breakfast and asked if she wanted an omlette. Pronounced oooom-let.

      The novelty of calling omlettes ooooom-lets has not worn off yet.

      • jenn fitzgerald September 16, 2010 at 11:41 AM #

        Lol cheese and rice! And oooom-let, for some reason I think I may have heard someone say that before.

        Sammy, I also watch House Hunters International with my mom, lol! We always argue over which house they should choose

        • Chantal September 16, 2010 at 5:05 PM #

          I’m from Canada and I never thought we pronounced it any different then Americans…. it’s sort of like Ah-mm-lette? Awnlette? Lol I’m not very good at figuring out how to show pronounciation. It could’ve been that they were in the East Coast of Canada, the accent get steadily more towards Irish the further east you go.

          As a side note to this side note, I also watch House Hunter international with my mom ❤

          • Chantal September 16, 2010 at 5:08 PM #

            I spelt both those wrong…. Aww-mm-lette / Awmlette. It’s been a long day -.- Why is this thing telling me “spelt” isn’t a word? Am I going crazy today?

            • Kerrie September 16, 2010 at 6:34 PM #

              Haha, spelt is a word, but not in the context you’re using it. : ) Spelt is a type of wheat.

              Spelled is the past tense of spell. : )

              Now, in general.
              Good call on Leviathan, though! But I disagree about them not acting their ages; I find that generally in teen lit the teenagers always act WAY more mature than real teenagers do mentally. In terms of actions, RL teens pretend they’re more mature – but the thought process is still limited to the experience and gathering of knowledge. I’m including myself, when I was fourteen/fifteen in the equation. xD Which was not SO long ago. Don’t worry! This is not a diss to all you teens out there.

              • jenn fitzgerald September 16, 2010 at 8:06 PM #

                Yeah, I agree a lot of time they write teenagers acting more mature, and about more teens pretending to be more mature than they are, but the characters are supposed to be 15, and Alek came across younger to me, playing with toy soldiers, jumping back into bed and pretending to be asleep.

            • jenn fitzgerald September 16, 2010 at 7:01 PM #

              Because it’s probably using American spellings, and spelt is British English 🙂 I didn’t think Canadians said it differently either, but it might be a regional thing

          • Kat Zhang September 16, 2010 at 7:49 PM #

            Am I just being really slow, lol?

            I can’t figure out how the people on the show pronounced it. Ommmlette? How is that different from Aww-mlette? Did she pronounce it Ohm-lette or something??

            This is going to bother me all night, now, lol. I LOVE discussing regional dialects/different pronunciations. I’ve spent most of my life in the south of the US, and my father gets on me all the time about my supposedly “southern accent” just because I leave out my Ns when I talk. Like, I say “moun-en” and “but-en” instead of “mounTain” and “butTton.” I’ve just recently “cured” myself of saying “ofTen” because he wouldn’t stop making fun of me, lol. Though really, EVERYONE I know says “ofTen” instead of “offen.”

            Now, on the other hand, if you say “pop” instead of “soda,” I will tease you… ;P

            • jenn fitzgerald September 16, 2010 at 8:00 PM #

              I imagined he was saying it with a long ‘o’ like ‘ew’ versus the standard way of saying it which is actually an ‘ah’ sound. I could find a vowel diagram add in, but I think that might be going too far.

              Dropping those ‘t’s isn’t a southern thing, it’s a standard American english thing 😛 I don’t know anyone who naturally enunciates the ‘t’ in mountain or button,

              • Vanessa September 17, 2010 at 9:35 AM #

                HEY! I’m from Canada, and I’ve never heard anyone say it ooooom-lette. I say Aww-mmlette/ Ohm-lette. Same thing, I suppose.

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