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 emply fabricated animals as their weaponry. The Leviathan is a living airship, the most formidable airbeast in the skies of Europe.
Aleksander 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 msot unexpected way...taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure. One that will change both their lives forever.
Okay, but really? I think this was Westerfeld's thought process as he dreamed up Leviathan, "What is necessary to make the awesomest book world possible? Alternate history centering on WWI, of course. There will have to be a hidden non-heir to the Austrian throne. And why not make it an alternating story between the prince and a girl? A girl who has to dress up as a boy to fulfill her dream of being a British airman? Oh! And it will be a steampunk universe, where WWI was a battle fought between complex machines a la Star Wars and evolution times 20 fabricated beasties. Yeah, that should do it."
Clankers and Darwinists. So brilliant. I wish it weren't AU, because if the world were actually like this? It would be a lot more interesting. Westerfeld's world is fully realized--even the language and slang is different, and surprisingly easy to pick up. I will admit that being thrown into such a well-thought out, but wholy different, world can be a bit confusing. Thankfully there are pictures every once in a while! This was extremely helpful, especially in understanding what a Huxley is, or how intimidating a Stormwalker would be.
I like Alek well enough, but it is Deryn who steals every scene she's in. Her personality jumps off the page, and I would totally want to be her BFF if she'd let me. Still, both of their stories drag a bit at the beginning. It isnt' until their stories crash into each other that they really shine and the plot gets moving.
Leviathan is a book unlike any other. It completely deserves to be nominated for the Caudill award.
Four out of five barking spiders.
Release Date: October 2009
Reading Level: Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL WES
Don't believe me? Check out these reviews of Leviathan:
The Book Smugglers