When I saw Leviathan for a good deal, I bought it on a whim. I found the idea intriguing and my curiosity was stirred, but did it deliver?
The Premise & Characters
This book was a unique read, at least for me. I’ve never read steampunk or alternate history (OK, technically I have read the latter, but not an alternate version of a major point in history) and these were two main elements of the story. It’s set during WWI, but the powers pitted against each other are classified as Clankers, those who rely on machines, and Darwinists, those who rely on genetically modified animals. I have to admit that the Darwinists’ “beasties” made me a little uncomfortable, so even though the Darwinists are the Allies and thus basically who the U.S. would side with, I found myself more inclined to root for the Clankers. This combined with the fact that I also felt sympathetic towards Alek, one of the two main characters, who is the son of Archduke Ferdinand whose assassination essentially started the war.
The second main character, Deryn, is a girl disguised as a boy who is able to earn her way into the British air service for the Darwinists. I did like her as well, but not as well as Alek for some reason. I think the main reason for this is that Alek undergoes a character arc in this book, whereas Deryn doesn’t really. I’ll have more to say on them later.
Technobabble & Action Sequences
Something I could have done without in this book was all the details about how the Clankers’ machines operated and how the Darwinists’ beasties functioned. I can understand why Westerfeld thought this material was imperative, but I felt a little bogged down by it at times. But even worse was how many action sequences there are. I like action when it moves the story forward, but I almost felt like the action made the story take long pauses instead. There would be shootouts and scenes of running away that lasted for more than a chapter and I really just wanted to move along and see how the characters were going to react to things happening outside of the action. I also apparently can’t follow action sequences very well, I’ve learned, and it doesn’t seem to matter who writes them. I always end up confused about who is where and what exactly they are doing and how they were able to do it.
The worldbuilding was pretty good. I understood everything pretty quickly, and the made-up swear words that Deryn used weren’t terrible and fit the story and time pretty well, I think. I also appreciated the afterword from Westerfeld in the end that explained what was fact and what was fiction in his version of WWI. Oh, and the map! Apparently it was illustrated by the same person who did the Grisha maps! It was a nice touch, though the many-shades-of-gray version in my book was a little hard to make out, but this color version Asti found is really great and easy to read:
Give Me Human Interactions!
The one thing that I wanted so much more of was more interaction between Alek and Deryn, and I think the blurb is to blame for this. Usually I don’t always pay full attention to blurbs, but this time, this was what sold me on buying the book. Here’s most of it: “Alek and Daryn are thrown together aboard the mighty airship Leviathan. Though fighting side by side, their worlds are far apart… They are enemies with everything to lose, yet somehow destined to be together.”
So I started this books, and I was waiting, waiting, waiting for these two to be “thrown together” and to watch a romance bloom! Well first off, they don’t meet until about the halfway point, but at that point they weren’t exactly fighting side by side yet. That comes later. And this destined to be together part? Well, towards the end of the book Deryn starts to feel a little funny around Alek, which she realizes means she kinds of like him, but there’s a problem, in that he still thinks she’s a boy. And even closer to the end she’s about to tell him when annoying Dr. Barlow barges in (OK, she’s not real annoying, but I didn’t love her either) and ruins the moment, and then shortly after that the book is over and HE STILL DOESN’T KNOW SHE’S A GIRL! He just thinks Deryn is Dylan, a good soldier and friend and dude. YOU’RE KILLING ME, WESTERFELD! OK, it’s probably not his fault that blurb ended up on the back of the book and gave me expectations he probably didn’t intend for to have. So I was a little disappointed by that. But again, it’s the start of a trilogy, so there’s more to come I’m sure. I just hope Deryn gets to tell him soon!
Lastly about the human interactions, I wanted to mention that the couple of really vulnerable moments we did get with Alek and Deryn, with him sharing about his parents’ death and her almost telling him who she was, they were AWESOME and SPOT ON. If there had been so much more of that and so much less action and beastie talk and all that, this could have real potential to have another half or full star.
I enjoyed a lot about this book ultimately, and hope in the next two installments to see more relationship developing (not all necessarily romantic) and less confusing, slow action.