Every once in a while, readers come across a series that they know is going to be added to their arsenal of all-time favorites. Something about the books stands out to you, speaks to you, and gets inside your head in a way that a lot of other books just don’t manage. I feel so lucky when that happens, as it’s like I stumbled into something precious, and I can’t wait to share this jewel with others. Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series is that for me. I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of the third book in the series, Goliath, at BEA. But to get us to that one, I must start at the very beginning, where the magic of a good story first happens.
Leviathan starts out at the beginning of World War I, with Alek, the son of Austria-Hungary’s Archduke Ferdinand, running for his life. But here’s where the story changes drastically. The world is split into two types of people, the Clankers and the Darwinists. The Clankers are machine-driven people, and as Austria-Hungary is Clanker, Alek’s escape is not on foot, or by horse, or even car, but by a huge, two-legged walker stomping across the countryside. Think Star Wars, but early 1900’s instead of futuristic. It’s very cool. So Alek is on the run because those who were after his parents are now after him. He eventually makes it to Switzerland—after a lot of close, tense moments—where he is to hide out indefinitely, until things calm down.
Then the story jumps to our other main character, a Scottish teen girl by the name of Deryn. At the start of the book she’s disguising herself as a boy so she can join the British Air Service. She was brought up flying, as her deceased father was a master of hot-air ballooning, but what she’s getting into is a wee bit different. Britain is Darwinist; yes, named after Darwin. In this book, Darwin didn’t just discover evolution; he discovered DNA and the ability to fabricate animals into amazing hybrid creatures that replace machines. Her first part of training is to go up into the air dangling beneath a Huxley, which is a giant jellyfish that floats through the sky, breathing and creating hydrogen. Things go awry, and Deryn (now being called Dylan) is rescued by the biggest most powerful ship in the British Air Force: the Leviathan.
The Leviathan is a huge zeppelin-like ship, but instead of a random shape filled with air, the main body of the ship is a giant whale. Yep, it’s a living, breathing, flying through the air whale ship. With some luck, Deryn manages to get work on the Leviathan for some time, and that’s where the adventures truly start.
The book alternates pretty regularly between the two different characters, Deryn and Alek. It was so interesting to hear their different voices and see the world from both a Clanker and a Darwinist point of view. The world is at war, and they are on opposing sides, but something happens where they need to help each other to help themselves, and the two worlds are brought together and mingled in truly interesting ways.
The creativity behind this story is mind-blowing. As a writer, this is definitely a series that I wish I had written, it is so fun and unique. I enjoyed so much the descriptions of the machines, and even more so the strange animal contraptions and what they were used for. I re-read Leviathan before reading the other two recently for this review, to refresh the story in my mind, and all I could keep saying was, “This is so good! I love this book!”
Westerfeld categorizes this as a Steampunk book, which technically it is and isn’t, at the same time. Usually books fitting this category occur before 1900, when steam was the strength of the day. In 1914, electricity was definitely around in full-force. But the Clankers’ machines worked on steam pressure, so technically it is Steampunk, a little bit. Either way, it is the blending of old and new, which is the core element in this genre.
This book is incredibly near and dear to my heart. I love the characters as if they were my family, and I am rooting for them so strongly that I can physically feel it in my gut. That, combined with the levels of wonderful creativity, make this book unlike anything I have ever read. It is truly unique, and lovely, and wonderful, and I could go on and on. I can’t say enough good things about it, really. If it at all sounds remotely interesting, read it. Read it today.
Leviathan released on October 6th, 2009.