Series: Leviathan #1
Published by Simon Pulse on Oct 6, 2009
Genres: Alternate History, Steampunk
Source: Amazon, Audible
Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.
Deryn Sharp is a commoner, 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 World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.
I love alternate history, and I love original world-building. These two things are in great abundance in the introductory work to Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan series. Unfortunately, I also love creative characters and novels with self-contained narratives. These two things were in shorter supply.
It is definitely refreshing to see someone take up an alternate history novel that is not set in World War Two or the Cold War, and Westerfield does a wonderful job of laying the undertones for conflict without hobbling himself to real world events. ‘Clankers’ and ‘Darwinists’ facing off made for a surprisingly compelling read, and I could sympathize with both sides through their respective narrators Alek and Deryn. Their voices were excellent, believable, and the use of each side’s slang added a level of reality to the story that I have rarely seen authors pay attention to. The plot unfolds quickly without feeling rushed, and have I mentioned just how much I love the world that Westerfield has built? Yes fabricated beasts and giant diesel driven mechs aren’t the most original ideas, Girl Genius was doing basically the same thing years before, but there’s such detail in his telling that characters can expound on basic concepts without feeling like they’re hitting the reader over the head with exposition.
Deryn and Alek, the woman disguised as a man and the renegade prince, aren’t bad characters but they fall flat when set against the background, and the supporting cast. The observant female ‘Boffin’ Dr. Barlow truly steals the show, usurping any scene she has with the main pair, and forcing them into the background. It’s a little hard to hold an audience when your primary protagonists are less interesting than a snarky gene-manupulator.
The plot flows well, if a little clumsy through Alek’s early chapters. If I thought that Westerfield had made the ‘Clanker’ chapters feel mechanical and stilted on purpose I would applaud, but he saves the day with Deryn and her living airship. I found myself wanting to follow her story exclusively until the pair finally meet towards the end of the book, where things really begin to run like clockwork…
Until it abruptly ends a few chapters later. It would be nice to get some kind, any kind, of resolution to the story that I had just spent those hours reading. I understand that this is the first work in a trilogy, but why does that preclude it from a real ending? Can we get resolution on at least one plot thread? The author has plenty to choose from, dangling at the end of the book like string in front of a kitten.
I suppose it worked, since I plan to get the second book Behemoth just to find out where things go from here. The world is too compelling to leave alone, even if the protagonists aren’t, and hopefully they will get better as the series advances and the intentional layers of mystery and obfuscation pull back. Bottom line- worth a read, but plan on getting the second book as well if you want to get more than a taste of this fantastic world, or resolve any plot at all.