Book Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

My first experience with the steampunk genre, Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan was a fast paced, adventurous read and definitely not a disappointment. Westerfeld reimagines World War I with steam powered iron walkers loaded with machine guns and cannons and genetically fabricated animals bred and raised by British Darwinists to serve humans. Caught in the middle of the multi-country conflict are Aleksander Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian empire on the run after the assassination of his parents, and Deryn Sharp, a girl pretending to be a boy so she can serve in the British Air Service.

Absconding in the middle of the night in a Cyklop Stormwalker with his mechanicks master and fencing instructor, Alek doesn't know who to trust when he's told the news of his parents' death. His mother having been of common blood, many see him as unfit to rule and even a threat to the empire, so he must flee. They don't make it far, though, before they're discovered and must do battle with their enemies. Meanwhile, Deryn, going by Dylan, manages to prove herself a capable airman through a freak incident involving a Huxley - a jellyfish-like creature that flies by filling itself with hydrogen. She winds up on the Leviathan, a gigantic living ecosystem that doubles as a military aircraft, where she must continue to prove her usefulness on top of keeping up her disguise. When the Leviathan must make a crash landing in the neutral Swedish territory, Alek's and Daryn's paths cross, which only leads them to further adventure.

The first in a series under the same title, Leviathan was a great introduction to the steampunk genre and an intriguing look at what the world would be like if science and technology would've advanced earlier. In addition to the author's writing, illustrations by Keith Thompson throughout the pages help bring the images and scenes of the story to life. Written for a young adult audience, the story does have some death and violence - but it isn't overly graphic or gratuitous. Though the idea of a girl in disguise as a boy to serve in the military clearly isn't a new one, I found Westerfeld's character in this role fresh and likable. I'm looking forward to reading more from the series.