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.