Friday, 12 February 2010

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

October 2009, Simon and Schuster Children's
448 pages, Hardback
Personal copy (won in a competition)

YA, Steampunk

Cushions: 5
Daggers: 3
Smiles: 4
Tissues: 2
Yunaleska's recommended rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Summary from Simon and Schuster

The year is 1914 and Europe, armed with futuristic machines and biotechnology, is on the precipice of war. Prince Aleksandar is fleeing for his life, having discovered that his parents have been assassinated and he is now a target for the Clanker Powers, a group determined to take over the globe with their mechanical machinery. When he meets Deryn Sharpe, an orphan girl who has disguised herself as a boy so she can to join the British Air Service, they form an uneasy, but necessary, alliance. But the pair will soon discover that their emerging friendship will dramatically change their lives - and the entire course of the Great World War...

Without peeking inside the book, which I won in a competition thanks to Keris Stainton (yes I'd forgotten that I had entered. I was very excited when the email arrived.), I naturally think of the Leviathan, used as a friendly powerful guardian/monster/suchlike in my favourite video game series of all time, Final Fantasy. Most other people may think of a mythical sea monster. Both give an inkling to what the leviathan is in the book. It doesn't have magic powers, although the way it functions might feel like magic. It is a clever idea, which has produced an addictive book. I want the second in the series right now!

As both an avid gamer and reader, a world that mixes animals and machinery differently to the reality we live in doesn't seem that odd. (A few of the Final Fantasy games use this in their story line) In fact I can find it strange when stories are more normal, without magic etc. I'd quite like a talking lizard, found in Leviathan. I can't say I like the ethics behind the enhanced creatures in the story, but their abilities are impressive.

Normal isn't a word I would use for Leviathan. The technolgy used in Leviathan is every bit as advanced and strange as it was in Scott's hit series Uglies (one of my favourites). I easily assimilated the new terms, which allowed me to submerse myself in Alek and Deryn's adventures without feeling overwhelmed by the initially alien world. Thats a good thing, since by chapter 3 the plot took a brilliant twist that had me staring at the pages thinking "What?" and "Cool!". Having illustrations in the book clarified the detailed descriptions of technology brought the book even more alive than the story by itself. They make it clear how much effort was put in by the fictional characters to create the modes of transport. The illustrations brought the story to life when they overspilled from the distinctive frame which housed the picures (a nice touch).

It was a relief that Prince Alek could defend himself, he wasn't reliant on bodyguards. For me this gives his character more appeall. He is determined to prove himself worthy of his crown, no matter the cost to himself.

The use of the two povs (Point of view) was a great way to keep me in suspense throughout the entire story. Both Alek and Deryn's lives are filled with action, danger and humour. I eagerly awaited the moment their paths crossed, for both have strong personalities which were bound to clash at some point. Although beneath that strong persona lies a scared person. Alek fears his identity being uncovered and has to maintain an appearance of being a normal citizen rather than nobility. But as Deryn can confirm, there is more to pretending to be a certain person than appearance. It is the little mannerisms, the mentality and the way the world is viewed which both Alek and Deryn must master if their secrets are to remain hidden.

Deryn was definitely my favourite character. I have admiration for all girls in stories who have to pretend to be a boy just so they can follow their dreams. It takes more than courage to carry the acting out day after day. The desire to tell the truth provides the reader with hilarious thoughts from Deryn. Have you ever said boo to a jellyfish? Deryn does.

I've focused more on the technology, Alek and Deryn's characters, but there is so much more to Leviathan. There are scary antagonists (some are more subtle than others: large weapons being targeted at Deryn and Alek = not very subtle at all), The unexpected location changes for Alek and Deryn gave my imagination much food for thought. The secondary characters are as full of life as Alek and Deryn, they both help and hinder the protagonists on their adventure.Just as with the Uglies series (I haven't read any other of Scott's books), Leviathan has its own terms: my favourite was squick.

I was disappointed to learn that Leviathan is only the first book in the series - I'll do my best to get my hands on the next book,

Scott Westerfeld's website is here.

Here is the enticing book trailer.

And a short clip from Scott about working with an illustrator (I agree writers can sometimes 'hedge' descriptions. Thankfully we don't have to work out the height, width, depth of an object before writing about it. My mind doesn't work that way!)

Be sure to check out his Uglies series, not (yet) reviewed here. I have read them repeatedly, and recommend them highly.


Book Monster said...

This is on my TBR list and it looks so good!! Nice review!!

prophecygirl said...

Great review - I LOVED this book! Can't wait for the next one!

Yunaleska said...

Thank you for the comments. I need to read his other books (besides Uglies which I can't praise enough).