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 by Scott Westerfeld (audiobook cover)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!

My Thoughts:

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.

Those are my thoughts. Check out Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld on GoodReads or LibraryThing, read other bloggers’ reviews, or listen to an Audible sample!

Your Turn!

Have you read Leviathan? What about any of Westerfeld’s other books?

Join the Conversation


  1. Steampunk is simply Victorianesque science fiction—the “steam” part comes from the idea of continuing steam power rather than transferring to electric power. (There’s actually a collection called Steampunk Prime composed of actual Victorian science fiction.) While Leviathan is set in the 1910s, Westerfeld considers it steampunk because of its period setting combined with alternate technology and alternate history.

    1. Thanks for the definition, Clare! I wouldn’t have thought I’d enjoy steampunk, based on the description and the name, but if Leviathan is a good example of the genre, it just might be something I like.

  2. I had mixed feelings on this one. I enjoyed the story and loved the characters. But I got a little bored by the descriptions of the machines and their movements. Still, the machines themselves – the concept of them – are fascinating. I also listened to this one and enjoyed the experience, but it didn’t have me running for the second installment (maybe someday).

    1. I think it was all the movements that kind of bored me. I did enjoy the machines and their explanations. The second one, at least to me, moved much faster, with more story and less description, so you might enjoy it! But wait until the third one is out, just in case you really want to continue the series ASAP 🙂

  3. I admit, I would not have wanted to listen to this book because the physical copy of the book is gorgeous. It comes with a fantastic map of Europe divided into clanker and Darwinist countries (so that each country is drawn either mechanically or as an animal) and there are gorgeous illustrations all throughout the text. It’s so beautiful that I definitely want to have a physical copy in front of me.

    I admit, I thought the first half of Behemoth really dragged, but that might have been because I hadn’t read Leviathan in a year. The second half picked up though. Still, wonderful beautiful copy!

    1. I’m interested to see the physical book now! Listening to the book added a dimension for me, too, with the different voices and accents and everything. It really was a phenomenal recording. It sounds like either way, it’s enjoyable.

      I’m not sure how I would have felt if I’d read Behemoth after a time gap. I had the two books back to back on my iPod, so it was like having them as one long story. I guess I’ll find out when the third one is finally released!

  4. I gave this book to my twelve-year-old nephew for Christmas – he finished and loved it, and he *promised* me that he would send it to me so I could read it! *stamps foot* I still don’t have it! Argh. I need to get this book immediately!

    1. Ha, yes, you need to have a chat with this nephew! Or, start reading his books before you give them to him 🙂

  5. This sounds like exactly the kind of book that Tony and I would love to read together. I find the Darwinist angle particularly interesting, and I know Tony is intrigued by the whole steampunk renaissance, so I’ll have to keep it in mind the next time we’re looking for our next “read aloud” novel.

    1. Ooh, I think it would work really well that way! If you’re already interested in several aspects of the book, I do think you’d enjoy the series. Maybe wait til the third one is out, though, just in case you love it and must continue it right away!

    1. It’s definitely worth a read! I hope you enjoy it, whenever it makes it to the top of the pile 🙂

  6. I generally enjoy Steampunk and haven’t read any in awhile. I also have heard a lot of good things about this book, and would really like to try the series for myself. I am still kicking myself for not picking this one up at the book fair last December, but I am hoping to rectify that at the next sale! I am glad to hear you enjoyed this one. Great review!

    1. This is the first steampunk I’ve read, but apparently I enjoy it! I’m curious to read more. If you enjoy the genre, I definitely think Leviathan is worth looking into. I found it fascinating!

  7. I am so glad the reviews weren’t misleading. I loveeeed this book and the second installment which takes you to Turkey. Oh man. I cannot wait for the third one to come out!

  8. I want to read these! I am just scared that steampunk isn’t for me — I love the notion and the aesthetic but in practice it is often no good for me. There is an artist in New Orleans who makes gorgeous steampunky jewelry out of antique watch parts. Maybe steampunk fiction would work for me if I pierced my ears and bought those earrings.

    1. I was a little scared by the steampunk label, as it does not sound like something I’d enjoy (just from the name alone!). This series, to me, felt more like a His Dark Materials type world, similar to our own but with a few sweeping changes that mark the differences. In Pullman’s series, it was the daemons; in Westerfeld’s, it’s the Clanker and Darwinist philosophies. Maybe that’s how all steampunk is — I don’t know!

      It sounds like you should maybe have a steampunk-reading outfit, inspired by those earrings. You could start a trend!

    1. I loved Behemoth even more! I’ve wondered about the Uglies series. They were very popular when I worked in a bookstore, and they always seemed like they could be really good or really bad. I’ll have to check them out!

  9. This is one of those books that I’m convinced is NOT for me but I feel like I ought to try it.

    I don’t understand steampunk either … though it has been explained to me a several times.

    1. I’m getting a clearer idea of steampunk, thanks to the help of Erin Reads readers! I didn’t think I’d like this series, but I read so many raving reviews (and of the audiobook as well) that I decided to try it. I’m glad I did…though I know it’s not for everyone!

  10. I haven’t read Leviathan, although I thoroughly enjoyed Westerfeld’s So Yesterday, which was super quick and zippy and reminded me a lot of William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. I’d definitely dip in to his work again!

    1. I haven’t heard of So Yesterday! I just know Westerfeld’s Uglies series, aside from the Leviathan trilogy. Leviathan might be a little long for one sitting…though it moves fast, and it’s young adult, so it might work 🙂

  11. I stopped reading this one because I think I just wasn’t in the mood for it. I recently picked up a cheap used copy and will dive into it soon. Thanks for the review!

    1. It is a book you have to feel like reading, I think. I needed something absorbing and well done for my long, boring walk to class, so Leviathan was perfect. I hope you find the perfect mood for reading it!

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