Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Leviathan-Pulp Fiction for Kids!

Leviathan is a novel by Scott Westerfeld with illustrations by Keith Thompson is described thus by one book selling blurb:

It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet. Aleksandar Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battle-torn Stormwalker and a loyal crew of men. Deryn Sharp is a commoner, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered. With the Great War brewing, Alek's and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way...taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure. One that will change both their lives forever.

I read this book because of the pulp implications, steam-punk walkers and genetic splicing out of the Edwardian age? Not to mention World War One through the prism of alternate history. I also picked this book up for its lavish production value. It even has a video trailer!

This is a good book regardless of its intended audience. The premise was unique and well executed, the story, while not deeply complex, was engaging. For the younger reader some of the tropes are standard: a young woman passing herself as a boy, and a prince on the run. That doesn't matter, because both characters are well drawn and fleshed out and not stick figures in the tale.

Alex is a boy coming into manhood who has been relatively sheltered by his parents until their assassinations spark the beginning of the Great War. Fortunately he has four men loyal to him: his fencing master Wild¬count Volger and Otto Klopp, his master of mechanics, and the two soldiers that help pilot the Stormwalker clank that they take in their escape. Young Alex is the true heir to Austrian Empire and his enemies would make sure that he never sees the throne. Throughout the story Alex grows as a man and as a warrior with a compassionate heart.

Deryn Sharp is common true, but uncommon in her courage and practical sense. She is a midshipman aboard Leviathan. Deryn is adventurous and loyal; straightforward and earthy. She is, of course, an excellent foil for Alex.

The supporting characters are well drawn themselves, the Austrians and the Brits. The setting is almost a character to itself, with the Darwinist using gene spliced creatures as transport and weapon delivery systems.

The production value of this book cannot be overstated. The outer cover is high quality metallic, colorful, meant to catch the eye. The inside covers are detailed illustration of Europe's map, but with the countries stylized as Clanker tech or Darwinist creatures. Through out the book pen and ink illustrations show cases the characters and the creations from a Huxly, think an octopus-jelly fish highbred filled with hydrogen, to the Hercules, a massive war machine.

This the first book in a series and I am looking forward to the rest of the books. There are secrets and plots that are tantalizingly held out to bring readers to the rest of the series.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has a love of steam punk or adventure. The young people this is targeted to might actually become curious about the real history this novel diverts from and learn something as engaging as the fiction spawned by it.

1 comment:

  1. Saturday came early this week! Good for us!

    Sounds like a fun read. I know it is a beautiful book, and a brilliant concept. Where can I buy a Huxly anyway? :-)

    Nice post!