Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

coverimageLynn: I’ve been aching to read this book and when Cindy’s vendor order finally came in she brought Leviathan (S&S/Simon Pulse) straight to me. Talk about friendship! There is a lot to enjoy in just having the book in your hands. The cover and size of the book are attractive before you ever open the book and once you do, prepare to spend some time just examining the fabulous map on the end pages. The interior book design is incredibly appealing too with a strong clear font, heavy paper and mesmerizing black and white illustrations by Keith Thomas. Take time to do all this because once you start reading you won’t want to stop for anything.

A short disclaimer here – this is definitely my kind of book. I’m a long time steampunk fan and love alternate histories so this book is right up my alley. Instead of the usual Victorian setting, Westerfeld places this story in 1914 on the brink of the Great War. The Archduke and Duchess have just been assassinated but in this alternate world, they leave a 15-year-old son behind and the story begins as a few faithful supporters begin a desperate effort to get young Alek to safety in Switzerland. At the same time in England, Deryn Sharp (disguised as a boy of course) has just joined the British Air Service. The house of cards constructed by alliances is crashing and war seems inevitable. The world is further divided into Clankers who use steam-driven machines and Darwinists who have utilized biotechnology to fabricate animals for every task, including warfare. Deryn serves on the Leviathan, a huge airship that is actually a hydrogen powered ecosystem. While on a secret mission to Constantinople, the Leviathan is shot down near Alek’s hidden fortress and the two young people are forced into their own secret alliance in order to survive.

The action is fast and appropriately furious. The characters are completely engaging and the world building is ingenious. The whole package works together to produce a first rate page-turner that will fascinate teens. By the end of this first book, lots of new steam punkfans will be created so be prepared with recommendations while readers wait impatiently for the next installment. Make sure you have Philip Reeve’s Hungry City Chronicles and Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn series on hand.

Cindy: Barking spiders! What a romp of a book! I am not the dedicated science fiction reader that Lynn is, but I’ve taken a shine to steampunk. Last week at book club one of our teens asked what that term meant. Time Magazine is Johnny-on-the-spot with an article about the subgenre:

Imagine if computing technology had developed along the lines of Babbage’s vision: brass and steel instead of silicon and plastic; clockwork instead of electronics. In fact, imagine if all the great technological revolutions of the past 100 years hadn’t happened. Our world would run on Victorian tech–it would be a handmade, steam-powered world, finished in leather and mahogany. It’s an elegant, romantic vision. And it has a name: steampunk.–Lev Grossman, Time Magazine

That wasn’t the only timely reference source this week. While reading Westerfeld’s book, my email delivery of Merriam Webster’s Word of the Day sent me “Leviathan.”

But my favorite link is this one. Want your very own steam-powered walker? Build one! For inspiration, check out Crabfu SteamWorks for amazing examples of one artist’s working models. “Models” is not accurate, these creations are true works of art.

Lynn’s already given you more than a squick of details about the book (loved the invented language the characters use), so I’ll stop here and let you go get your hands on this book. It would make a great holiday gift book.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

7 Comments on "Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld"

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  1. angela.craft@gmail.com' Angela says:

    I loooooooooooooooove Leviathan! And it is just a beautiful book before you even get to actual story! I have the endpaper map set as my desktop wall paper at work. It’s definitely a gift-quality book.

  2. greatkidbooks@gmail.com' Mary Ann says:

    Leviathan was so much fun – I kept thinking “barking spiders!” to myself for days! Try the audio. I know that there are great pictures in the hardback, but I actually loved listening to this story and imagining what scenes would be illustrated. I’m pairing it with Jim Murphy’s Truce as a present for my 11 year old neighbor.

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