Release date: 27th May 2010 UK
Target audience: 10+
UK Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men. Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered. With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way.taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.
The story of Leviathan begins with a real-life tragedy that was the cause for the beginning of World War I - Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria-Hungary, and his wife have just been assassinated in Sarajevo (Serbia) and their son, Aleksandar, must be protected immediately. The news spreads fast and European countries are at the ready for war. Young Alek, although not the rightful heir to his father's throne because Franz Ferdinand married a commoner, is suddenly in danger. Someone knows the boy is more important than the Austrian-Hungarian court would have everyone know - even Alek himself has been clueless until the murder of his parents.
To begin with, I must compliment Westerfeld for blending fact and fiction so well. Aleksandar was not a real person. The archduke and his wife had three children, all of which were not considered Franz Ferdinand's heirs, as their mother was a commoner. In this novel, Aleksandar is their only child and he is a completely believable character. He did not exist in actual history, but he truly lives in the novel and while I was reading the story, I completely forgot he was never real. His character is well outlined. He behaves very royally, is educated and intelligent, and possesses a bit of the royal arrogance, which is natural, as he was brought up as a nobleman. However, he is able to learn some humility and has a vulnerability to him that promises to make him a great leader, if he ever becomes one. I must say that, although I am a bit of a history freak, I was not bothered at all by the blending of history and fiction. It was extremely well done and in a beliavable way.
Aleksandar, as an Austrian, is also a Clanker. He and his countrymen rely on machines and are great mechanics. They travel around in big walking vehicles.
On the other side, we meet Darwinist (the English), who travel in fabricated creatures. An example of such a creature is the Leviathan, an aircraft that is basically a huge whale fuelled by hydrogen that the whale produces by itself. Leviathan is a living, breathing aircraft and Clankers hate Darwinist beasties, thinking them ungodly and a perversion of nature. Deryn Sharp is a Darwinist. She is a girl dressing up as a boy because this is the only way she can be a soldier. She is extremely brave, clever and talkative. She can handle any situation and for most of the time, she is more boy than girl, but over the course of the novel she begins to show that essentially, Deryn Sharp is a girl.
The story offers very interesting characters and a lot of adventure. This novel is truly packed with adventures and excitement, and there isn't a moment when something is not happening. This novel focuses on the pre-WW1 time. The archduke has just been murdered and war is imminent. As young Alek is in danger, he must be transported to a safe place, which is far from easy. On their way, this group of Clankers - Alek and his loyal companions - meet a group of Darwinist soldiers, with Deryn Sharp among them, and Alek's act of altruism threatens to put him in even greater danger. Alek and Deryn also learn that people should not be judged before one gets to know them. You cannot hate a person simply because he/she is a Clanker or a Darwinist. The adventures are definitely fun to read about. This is a very plot-driven novel, but it does offer some nice insight into the characters featuring in the story.
I truly like the premise - Clankers vs Darwinists. The author stayed faithful to the main events before WW1, yet fabricated them so that they fit the steampunk plot, which is essentially a clash between Clankers and Darwinists. It also provides an opportunity to think. I could easily understand the Clankers. They rely on machines and that is what we do, as well. The Darwinist, however, can manage nature. They turn living creatures into means of transportation, into walkie-talkies and so on. As I believe that nature should not be abused by means of unnecessary genetic experiments (e.g. cloning), I had a hard time liking the Darwinists at first. But then, the concept really grew on me and I think it's a great fantasy feature and definitely refreshing in the fantasy world. Just imagine - instead of travelling in a plane, you travel inside a living whale! In the real world, I would not want to travel inside a fabricated mammal, but fantasy-wise, it is a very thrilling idea. I love this author's imagination!
This is not my usual reading genre (I mean steampunk), but I enjoyed the novel nonetheless. It ends on a great cliff-hanger that offers a lot of new adventures and danger in the future of the characters and I am definitely tempted to read the sequel. Leviathan was more or less an introduction into what is coming, but it was a great read and if you like fantasy, history and steampunk, it is a perfect read for you. A truly gripping page-turner.
Becky says: As you know Irena, I did try to read this book but I just couldn't get into it. I did think the concept was a really interesting one but I think steampunk is not for me. I'm glad you stuck with it because it sounds like if you do "get" it, the novel is gripping and quite an imaginative feat. Both our thanks go to Simon and Schuster for sending the book to review.
And any UKers out there might be interested to know that Amazon are selling Leviathan for £1.99. I couldn't believe it when I clicked through to check the release date. Buy it now if you're going to! Here is the LINK.