I was craving a good steampunk read not too long ago and this one came recommended by an entire hoard of fellow authors. I’d read Westerfeld’s other books and enjoyed them, so this was an excellent choice.
This is a story of two very different children on very different sides of an alternate history of the first world war. Prince Aleksander is the would-be heir of the Austro-Hungarian throne. Deryn Sharp is a commoner pretending to be a boy so that she can be part of the British Air Service. They both have identities that must remain hidden for their own protection.
As the war grows in intensity, they both find themselves caught in difficult circumstances. Alek has become a target due to his ties to the Empire and has fled the country in a Clanker war machine. Deryn’s fantastical Darwinist airship has been shot down on a frozen glacier. It’s only by trusting each other and working past their differences that either of them will be able to survive.
When it comes to worldbuilding, Westerfeld always delivers. Working in alternate history is a challenge as there needs to be some reverence for the source material while creating a different reality populated with fantastical ideas and larger than life machines. I loved the idea that this wasn’t just a war of country vs country, but also those who relied on mechanical devices vs those who turned to the natural world for their solutions.
I also did appreciate the effort taken in the details of these two different worlds and how it shaped the main characters springing from each of them. Alek, who’s grown up with Clanker machines, tends to be practical and mechanically minded. Deryn, on the other hand, is accustomed to Darwinist creations and is a bit of a dreamer. She also has a knack for understanding the animals around her.
Is the book perfect, no – but what book is? Alek comes across as strangely childish and is also treated like a little kid off and on throughout the story. No one trusts his judgement, and he is second guessed more often than not. Deryn, in contrast, is the lowest rank and least experienced person on the ship. She is the youngest and the smallest, and yet she commands an unusual respect among those of the crew. I can see what Westerfeld was trying to do by making them foils of each other, all while making them distinct and interesting, but this seems like a bit of a stretch. The book also drags at times and ends in a place that isn’t as satisfying as it should be. Yes, I know there’s a sequel, but there needed to be a better resolution to a few more of the outstanding conflicts to make it feel finished.
This is the perfect book for 5th grade and those who don’t mind the writing to sound young. There’s plenty of danger, action, and tomfoolery to keep things moving and no squishy lovey bits to distract. Alek and Deryn become friends, and I imagine there will be more in that relationship later, but for now the story is about as romantic as a potato.
There are an assortment of interesting alternate swears, I think bum rag is a new favorite of mine, so the book reads squeaky clean in that regard. As for the violence, it is situation appropriate and the mention of blood is minimal.
I rate Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld 4/5, a solid good read that needed more resolution.
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