Rooted firmed in the steampunk genreScott Westerfeld’s new series opens with gusto in Leviathan, released last week from Simon Pulse.

In this alternate reality where the Central Powers (Clankers) have leviathaninvented amazing mechanikal war machines, 15 year old Prince Aleksander Ferdinand’s parents, the heir to the throne of the Austria-Hungarian Empire Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek, have been assassinated and he is whisked away in the dead of night by just a few loyal men in a giant walking war machine, a Stormwalker.  Naive to the intricacies of politics and international intrigue, Alek slowly realizes this assassination has been the spark to set off the greatest war the world has ever known; and it takes most of the novel for him to accept his role in the coming crisis.

Deryn Sharp is just a 15 year-old girl from Scotland who is hell-bent on serving in the Royal British Air Service aboard one of the wondrous fabricated animal flying machines.  Her world is full of amazing beasts whose “life strains” were discovered by Darwin, harnessed and engineered by Entente (Darwinist) scientists to blend there natural powers and characteristics to better serve humankind.  The trouble for Deryn is that she’s a girl in 1914 England; but her spunky, no guts no glory attitude (and a hair cut & boy’s clothes) get her aboard most amazing of all is the airship beastie of all, the giant Leviathan.  Her only real fear is that her secret be discovered and end her adventures before they begin.

Alek’s desperate flight from Austria to neutral Switzerland, pursued by enemies from within his own family and people as well as the Germans, and Deryn’s service aboard Leviathan, sailing over enemy territory on a top-secret mission to the Ottoman Empire, thrust them into an unlikely collision, and an even more unlikely friendship as their worlds topple into a horrific, terrifying war.

Westerfeld builds the story layer upon layer; at the beginning both Alek and Deryn are seemingly young for their age, unprepared for the challenges, risks and dangers ahead.  The action starts immediately and races from amazing experience and near escape to heart-pumping battles.  Alternating two chapters at a time for each narrator (Alek & Deryn), Westerfeld ensures that the reader gets to know each character well and forms a strong connection with each of them.  Wonders, both mechanical and animal, abound.  It  keeps the head spinning with the glories of this alternate world, beautifully enhanced by Keith Thompson’s illustrations and endpapers.  According to Westerfeld, Thompson “created a sort of ‘Victorian manga’ style, part steampunk and part old-fashioned biotech,” and it’s a perfect pairing for this interesting, original series.  Look for book two, Behemoth, in October 2010.

  • Posted by Cori

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