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.
First of all, I want to point out that this book is marked “young adult” but that’s grading it way too high. The writing is very simplistic and the characters, while supposedly teenagers, are written very young, especially Prince Alek. I would have guessed their ages to be eleven or twelve, not fourteen or fifteen. If you’re expecting romance, you’ll be disappointed. There aren’t even any supernatural aspects of this book, and several reviewers on Amazon call it a “steampunk novel.” As I know next to nothing about steampunk, I can’t comment on that.
Secondly, I am not the hugest fan of Westerfeld, as I could barely get through Uglies without stabbing myself in the eye. His Midnighters series, however, was brilliant and lovely and sad and perfect. (I’m not a big fan of Westerfeld as a person either, and you can read why here.) Despite my feelings, he is a good writer and after reading the Midnighters series, I was excited to read more.
WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS
Leviathan is a retelling of the outbreak of World War I. While most of the history remains the same, there is one gigantic difference: machines. There are two factions, the Clunkers and the Darwinists. The Clunkers use metal only, building machines that, in my head at least, look like Imperial Walkers from Star Wars and other variations upon that theme. The Darwinists, named after the Darwin, use animal/machine hybrids both as transport and as weapons. I honestly can’t remember which nations were Clunkers and which were Darwinists, but I do know that Alek grew up Clunker and Deryn (from Scotland) grew up Darwinist.
Now, I am an animal lover, and there’s a lot of talk of how these Darwinist “beasties” can feel pain, fear, nervousness, et cetera. I had to skim through the parts where the animals get torn apart, because they made me so sad. As you can see, I’m not particularly on the side of the Darwinists, though, if Westerfeld keeps to the history, the Darwinists will win.
You know who’s side I am on though? Deryn’s. She’s awesome and a perfect contrast to Alek. Alek is rich, spoiled, arrogant, and whiny, pretty much everything I hate in a protagonist. Yes, his parents were killed. Yes, he was torn away from his nice cushy castle to live in some snowy “pile of rocks” in Switzerland. Yes, he’s been thrust into battle perhaps a little earlier than one would hope. All these things, however, mold Alek into a whiny pathetic mess of a boy, who in one chapter realizes his arrogance has given his fugitive party away and in the next returns to being his princely self. If I didn’t have this book on my Kindle, I would have thrown it at the wall by now.
Deryn, on the other hand, is amazing. She’s fourteen and sneaked her way into being an airman on the ship Leviathan. She holds her own as she pretends to be a boy, and she keeps her place on the ship when all but one of her peers are removed. Her father died years before in an accident, and her way of mourning him is to keep doing what he loved. Flying. She has to make hard decisions aboard the Leviathan and she does them with grace. I would add her to my list of my favorite females in fiction in a hot second. I hope that she straightens Alek out at some point.
A problem I had with this book is a problem I have with a lot of fantasy and sci-fi. Fantasy authors really enjoy describing outfits and traveling (sometimes endlessly), but they really enjoy writing fight scenes. Sci-fi authors really, really, really like describing their various machines and technology. I usually skim these parts, because honestly, I don’t care about tunics or landscapes or computer programs. The problem with Leviathan is that not only do Alek and his party travel in a giant machine, but they have a lot of fights, and Westerfeld goes on at length about joysticks and hydrogen and stuff I don’t want to read about. The same goes for Deryn on her ship (only it’s sadder because her ship is half whale). If I skim these parts, I have to skim two or three pages at a time. There’s a reason I prefer character-driven sci-fi over “hard” sci-fi. In other words, I likeThe Handmaid’s Tale more than Ender’s Game (and yes, I do realize that EG is not the hardest of sci-fi by a long shot).
So, in the end, my personal preferences forced me to give this book only two stars. I’m not sure if I’ll be reading the sequel,Behemoth, but if I do, you’ll find my review here!