Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Book Review- Leviathan and Behemoth

The Leviathan series has loooong been overdue for me to read. I first discovered it around sometime last summer and I've had it on my reading list ever since, but seeing how distracted I am when it comes to picking the books I read, I didn't get around to it until a couple of weeks ago. Now that I finally have read it, I'm kicking myself hard in the butt for putting it off for so long. After reading the first two books in the series, I really think the Leviathan series could be the series to pave the way for steampunk novels in mainstream reading. First it was wizards, then vampires, now dystopia, and if I'm right, steampunk will be the next YA fad. Before I get ahead of myself, let me give you the definition for Steampunk. Once I tried to explain it to a friend of mine and she answered back with a blank stare, so I've pulled this definition from Wikipedia in the hopes that it will make more sense than my own words:

"Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, alternate history, and speculative fiction...Specifically, steampunk involves an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century and often Victorian era Britain—that incorporates prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them; in other words, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc...

Other examples of steampunk contain alternative history-style presentations of "the path not taken" for such technology as lighter-than-air airships, analog computers, or such digital mechanical computers as Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace's Analytical engine."

As for Leviathan, the book takes an alternative look at World War I where the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungry) are called the "Clankers" and the Entente Powers (Britain, France, Russia, Belgium, Algeria (a colony of France), Serbia, and Japan) were the "Darwinists." Clankers were characterized by their use of mechanical war machines and weapons, such as "Walkers" which were diesel powered walking war machines you pilot from the inside. The Darwinists on the other hand used evolved, fabricated creatures, also called "beasties," as their war weapons which is what the Leviathan is; a gigantic flying whale which is also an airship that is part of the British fleet. The cool thing about the Leviathan is it's a fully working, sustainable ecosystem so it can repair itself if injured.

The book begins in 1914, and Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife have been assassinated, and the Great War is about to break loose. Prince Aleksander of Hapsburg is forced to flee from the German assassins who killed his parents. Even though Alek is not the technical heir to the throne because his father married a commoner woman, Emperor Franz Joseph I is old and has no heir so Austria may turn to Alek when he passes on. Because of this, Alek's fencing instructor Count Volger and his Master of Mechanics Otto Kloop decide to pull him out of Austria at the risk of being murdered. They escape in a Stormwalker and have Alek practice piloting it while they're on the run.

Meanwhile in Britain, a girl named Deryn Sharp is studying to join the Royal Air Navy. Deryn dreams of being able to join the academy because flying what she loves more than anything and it's what she learned from her father who died in a ballooning accident. Because women are forbidden to join the air service, Deryn must masquerade as a boy and takes on the name Dylan Sharp. When she makes it to the academy, she takes a ride in a Huxely (a mix between a jellyfish and hot air balloon) and gets blown away in a storm off to the North Sea. While floating around the air, the famous giant airship The Leviathan comes and retrieves them. On the airship, Deryn joins the crew as they receive their first mission: to transport an important scientist, Dr. Nora Barlow, and her secret package to Constantinople.

In the meantime, Alek and his men make it to their hiding place in the Swiss Alps after evading a number of attacks from Austrian and German patrols. Their hideout is a castle installed with 10 years worth of supplies that Alek's father had prepared for him in the case of an event like this. While this is going, the Leviathan is in the air after having picked up Dr. Barlow. The ship comes under attack by German planes and crashes down on to the same glacier as Alek's castle. Alek sees the crash and decides to secretly bring medical supplies to the crew. When he makes his way over the to crash-site, he sees Deryn unconscious in the snow and wakes her. He tries to bluff saying that he is a Swiss villager just being a good samaritan and bringing them medical supplies. Unconvinced, Deryn sounds the alarms and Alek is taken prisoner. Not long after being captured, Alek's men coming crashing towards the ship in the Stormwalker and a battle almost explodes between the two sides. Deryn prevents this by pushing Alek out in front the Stormwalker and holding a knife to his throat. Okay I don't want to give away the entire novel so I'll just say that that is the beginning to a beautiful friendship between our two heroes.

By the time we get into the second novel, Behemoth, The Leviathan arrives in Istanbul with the secret package that Dr. Barlow has prepared for the Sultan. Istanbul is a mosh pit of Clanker culture and Darwinst principles, creating an interesting cultural intersect. The purpose of this secret package is to serve as a gift to the Sultan in an attempt to keep the Ottoman Empire's political ties neutral after the fact that Britain created a war monster called the Behemoth for the Ottoman Empire that they fully paid for, yet Churchill ran off with it. The Sultan is cutting off Britain's supplies to Russia, hurting them in their fight against the Clankers. Now the politically charged and hostile country is being influenced by Germany who bestowed two Clanker ships to the Sultan which are installed with a Tesla cannon. A weapon which could be used to easily shoot down hydrogen ships such as the Leviathan. The Behemoth beastie weapon could easily take down these ships but the Ottoman's Kraken net prevents the Behemoth from getting into Ottoman territory. Again, I don't want to give too much away so I'll just say that the we get to see Alek and Deryn join some revolutionaries in the Ottoman Empire called the Committee of Union and Progress that involves some use of epic Clanker Walker machines.

You can't tell me that this plot synopsis doesn't intrigue you. I love the idea of linking historical events and locations with an alternative perspective, and Mr. Westerfeld does it in the most creative and innovative way. After the end of each book, Mr. Westerfeld hands us an Afterwords that goes over the historical liberties that he took. For one thing, Archduke Ferdinand did not have a son named Alekander so he is a fictional character, but you would be surprised how many things are based off of fact. My favorite was seeing the melting pot of Istanbul and its mix of Clanker machines and Darwinst culture.

Another fun things about reading this series was discovering all these war machines and monsters that came from the noggin' of Mr. Westerfeld. You might have a hard time envisioning these creatures and machines at first, but the book are dusted with rich detailed drawings by Keith Thompson to help you better see this alternative world created Mr. Westerfeld. It is totally worth buying the books just to get these incredibly ornate images. I don't usually like pictures that accompany books, but in this case, you need them to get the entire experience of Deryn and Alek's world. Just look how beautiful Mr. Thompson's artwork is below!

Coming in to reading Leviathan, I had recently come off of reading the Eon series just a few weeks before. Now if you read my review of Eon, you know it is also about a girl masquerading as a boy in some alternative ancient Eastern Asia land that heavily resembled China, and you'll know that I disagreed with Eon's (or Eona's) character. She had trouble embracing the woman in her, and when she does by the second book, she just becomes stupid girl pitting two men in her life against each other. Now Deryn on the other hand I loved. She knows how to act like a boy without losing her female identity. She embraces who she is instead of despising it like Eona. The introduction of a boy in her life also doesn't scramble with her common sense (at least not in a unhealthy way), but does provide a lot of cute moments (oh and Alek never knows that Deryn is actually a girl in the series so far). Deryn was probably one of the funnest and most interesting characters I've got to read about in a long time. I love her so-called "swagger" and fun lingo she uses (barking spiders!!!) and just her all around happy-go-lucky mentality. Deryn's character was just so well written, unique and epic, I just know that I will be comparing every book heroine I run across to her from now on.

Now typically when a novel's got both a main girl and guy character, one tends to overshadow the other. In the case of Leviathan, both Deryn and Alek get their equal share under the limelight. Both characters were also very likeable that it's almost hard to choose who you prefer (though I think I prefer Deryn a tiny bit over Alek). Alek, though he grew up a spoiled rich "barking ninny prince" (as Deryn puts it), he is incredibly thoughtful and really believes he can end the war. Alek quickly matures and grows up a lot throughout the two books and his immense kindness shows up at several moments. You will fall in love with both Alek and Deryn as you read the series, up to the point when you'll get stressed out over the thought of the two of them potentially getting separated.

Right now I am freaking out so badly over what fates Alek and Deryn hold, and the concluding novel named Golaith isn't coming out until September 20th! What the shits am I suppose to do til then!? I haven't been this excited for a book release since the last Harry Potter book. I've waited around for plenty of book releases since then, but never held anticipation like this in a while. Ahhhh, just look at the epic cover!

Honestly, even if you don't like steampunk, science fiction or anything like that, this series is a wholesome, fun way to pass the time that any reader could enjoy. I do hope this series picks up a bigger following because it deserves it waaaaaaaay more than some other shitty YA novels out there right now on trend. If you want to get away from shit-head, mentally retarded, attention seeking, "I'm good for nothing" "heroines" created by Stephanie Meyer or very underwhelming worlds with falling-to-shit writing by Suzanne Collins, try Scott Westerfeld for a change. Now my only question left for you is...do you oil your war machines, or do you feed them? Oh my god wow, I've become nerdier than ever.

Final Score- 10/10

You can also check out this cool promotional video for Leviathan here:

Also I just want to note that I'm sorry I've been so bad about writing reviews lately. I read a whole slew of books recently and I plan on getting those reviews out to you as soon as I can! Turns out I have a lot more time now to focus on my beloved blog!

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