Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld is one of those books I picked up due to the sheer number of ecstatic reviews I’d read. I chose the audiobook in particular because of how highly it was recommended. I love it when I listen to popular opinion and end up agreeing!
About the Book:
Leviathan is the first in a trilogy of alternate history. Set against the backdrop of World War I, these novels incorporate historic events into a different sort of world, embellishing and changing as needed.
The story revolves around two main characters. First there is Alek, prince of Austro-Hungary, hiding out from the same enemies that assassinated his parents and aided by a few of his father’s loyal men. Then there is Deryn, whose dream of serving in the British Air Service drives her to disguise herself as a boy in order to join up.
Alek’s people are Clankers, building sophisticated machines for war purposes and relying on all things mechanical. Deryn’s are Darwinists, utilizing living beasts specifically woven from the threads of life to suit society’s needs. The two powers have embraced separate paths and have always been skeptical of the way chosen by the other.
But Alek’s and Deryn’s paths are slowly converging. How they do so and where they go from there, you’ll have to read the book to find out!
Leviathan is a book that hooked me immediately. I will admit that this first installment moved the tiniest bit slower than I might have liked at times, but I hardly noticed. I was far too wrapped up in the world created by Westerfeld.
What fascinated me most were the Darwinist creations. The Leviathan, for instance, one of the British Air Service’s airships, is one huge living creature. Known as a “hydrogen breather,” it supports its own ecosystem that allows it to function like a blimp. Even its message relay systems and defense mechanisms are alive. And it’s not the only fabricated beast in the story; on the contrary, so used to fabricated creatures is she that Deryn is shocked when she meets a natural animal. As Leviathan progresses, Westerfeld explains how the entire system works with a degree of planning and detail that kept me enthralled.
Then there were the characters. I liked Deryn best of all, with her secrets and her bravery and her unique vocabulary. (An expression of alarm or disbelief, “Barking spiders!” was my particular favorite.) Good, honest Alek was a close second. And may I just say, if they make a movie of Leviathan, I’ve already cast Nicole Kidman as Dr. Barlow.
As I said, the plot dragged the tiniest bit here and there, but I believe that was only because Leviathan is the set-up novel. It familiarizes the reader with the characters, the vocabulary, the politics, and the world of the trilogy. Luckily, those elements are plenty interesting to make the book enjoyable.
As for the audio production, as read by Alan Cumming, it is nothing short of masterful. Cumming moves between accents deftly. On top of that, each character has not just a particular tone, but also a certain manner of speaking by which they come to be identified. Cumming’s pacing is as perfect as his character voices. He reads dramatically without going overboard. I don’t often fully enjoy listening to third person narrations, but I have not a single complaint about this one. I was thoroughly impressed.
I’ve heard Leviathan labeled “steampunk,” though, to be quite honest, I’m not entirely sure what that means. I didn’t think about the fact that it falls into the “alternate history” category until I heard Westerfeld’s afterword at the end of Leviathan explaining what in the story was real and what was imagined. Both of those are labels that might have made me think Leviathan might not be for me. If you’re in the same place, pretend you’d never heard such labels and just read (or listen to) the book! And if you’re already a fan of either genre (or both), I’d recommend Leviathan to you as well.
Have you read Leviathan? What about any of Westerfeld’s other books?