For any YA-fans looking for a new fun and imaginative adventure to fill the Harry-Potter-sized void in your lives, I give you Leviathan!Beware the Clanker Revolution!
It's the year 1914, and Austrian prince Alek has just learned that his parents have been murdered. Instead of being allowed time to grieve, he is forced to flee his country with only a handful of men loyal to him. As his birthright represents a direct threat to the Clanker army's quest for power, the fifteen-year-old Alek has been targeted for assassination. On the run, the young prince tries valiantly to find a way to prevent a war by ending the conflict. Behold the Darwinist Evolution!
In contrast, Deryn Sharp doesn't try to avoid conflict, she thrives on it! So much so that the 15-year-old girl masquerades as a boy just so she can join the British Air Service. Now she finds herself swept away to a new home, filled with extraordinary genetically-altered creatures. As the young girl fights alongside the Darwinists in their battle against the Clankers, she proves many times over that the most powerful weapon at her disposal is her mind."Leviathan"
was the most fun I've had reading a book in a long time! One thing that struck me was the sheer creativity Scott Westerfeld displayed in establishing this alternate-reality version of World War I. The Clanker army (which includes Germany, Austria, and the Ottoman Empire) possesses a wide variety of steam-powered monstrosities that march into war. What was truly impressive was Westerfeld's ability to not only describe the various machines' appearances, but to even provide such fluid descriptions as to how they operate. The Darwinists (comprised of Britain, France, and Russia) feature even more imaginative weapons, genetically-manufactured "beasties" that are crossbreeds of various animals and scientifically engineered to possess useful abilities (my favorite being the talking Message Lizards). Such a perfect blend of the natural and the mechanical makes Westerfeld's world a truly rich and elaborate setting.
Of course, a book that takes place in an exciting world still suffers if the characters aren't interesting, but fortunately Westerfeld gives us a cast that manages to be even more compelling than the wonders surrounding them. Alek is altruistic, yet somewhat spoiled. He is stoic in the loss of his parents, but his emotions still get the better of him at times. Deryn is also an extremely likable character. She is spirited and strong, but often also reveals a much softer side (especially her affection towards the beasties that most others only see as tools). Deryn's swashbuckling ways led me to almost cheer out loud on more than one occasion. Westerfeld pulls off an amazing trick, giving us two young leads who are wise beyond their years, yet also talk and act in such a way that they are perfectly believable as teenagers!
While these two lead characters are captivating enough to carry the book on their own, fortunately they don't have to. Westerfeld also gives us an enjoyable supporting cast as well. Particularly engaging is Dr. Nora Barlow, a British scientist who possesses not only a bubbly disposition, but also a brilliant and observant mind that rivals even that of a certain well-known British detective. Another enthralling player in this drama is Count Volger, the loyalist who becomes Alek's father figure. Volger is gruff, but also noble, and his cunning and shrewdness make us very grateful that he is on Alek's side! Truthfully, the supporting characters in this book are more interesting than the stars of many other books!
On the surface, the story is a fast-paced adventure, but there are many other themes that play out as well. The persecution the Darwinists suffer from those who label them "godless". A soldier's torment over whether to follow orders or do what they truly feel is right. The fallacy of gender and national stereotypes. Mature themes are woven into a young-adult adventure to add more layers of depth to the story.
Ultimately, once I finished reading this book, I only had one complaint...I wish the book never had to end!