My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan takes place in an alternate, euro-centric world where people are not only divided by their countries, but also by their science. There are the Darwinists, scientists who manipulate and combine DNA (called life strands or something in the book) to create incredibly useful chimeras like 200-plus feet long floating whales carrying a full ecosystem. Then there are the Clankers who are more enthusiastic about machines and technology, but also have 200 feet long mechanical zeppelins.
Leviathan was mostly a world-building book. It isn’t till the halfway point that our two protagonists actually meet. Alek is the secret heir to an empire and is forced to be on the run thanks to the messy politics of Germany versus Austria. Deryn is a girl who has to pretend to be a boy in order to fulfill her goal of becoming an airshipman. The two start off pretty one-dimensional, with Alek being very demanding and princely, and Deryn feeling out the proper way to act as a boy, but as the book went along, I started to like them more. I don’t think it was until the two finally met that I saw how they’d changed from when they were first introduced to the reader.
There are many new, made-up words in Leviathan and usually that sort of thing puts me off on a book, but it worked well in this context. The first couple of chapters are confusing as I tried to figure out what a boffin was and what exactly was a clart, but even I have to admit it lends a certain type of whimsical air to the entire story. It definitely establishes the world as a different one that where we live.
Despite the rich world-building and the fantastic detail in describing the fabricated animals and intricate machines (including nice artwork by Keith Thompson), I couldn’t help feeling that this book would have been better written as an adult book. Leviathan is more of a pre-YA book. The language (other than the made up words) is incredibly simple, and the story telling is very direct and to the point. It makes it easy to speed past chapter after chapter, but something about the writing didn’t sit well with me.
That doesn’t mean I won’t pick up the next book, Behemoth, though. I’m a sucker for cliffhangers and I hope that we get more details on the characters and their situations. The whole impersonating another gender in order to get you want has so much potential, but is barely touched upon. I went through the entire book wondering if someone would find out Deryn’s big secret.