Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld

Finally, my first review. (It would have been up earlier, but this last week has been incredibly busy.) Anyway, due to the fact that I spent most of the last two years writing for my school newspaper, most of these reviews will be written in newspaper reveiw form, (meaning third person and such). All right, enough talk, here we go:
A girl disguised as a boy in the British army, the son of the Arch Duke Ferdinand running from the people who killed his parents. These are the circumstances that the protagonists in Scott Westerfeld’s new novel, Leviathan, are put up against in this steampunk, historical science-fiction piece. Westerfeld, author of the Midnighters trilogy, Peeps, and the New York Times Bestselling Uglies series, has recently released a new form of reading. Leviathan, which not only has the unusual genre of historical fiction combined with science fiction, is also a fully illustrated young adult novel. These illustrations depict the unusual creatures and machines that Westerfeld has planted throughout this entire novel, pulling the reader even deeper into this strange new history.
Leviathan begins with the murder of the Arch Duke Ferdinand, thus starting World War I. This is not an ordinary story, only portraying the war. In the world Westerfeld has created, Charles Darwin not only became the father of evolution with his pea plants, he also discovered DNA, and in doing so began creating his own species. These species are now used by the group called the Darwinists, consisting of Britain, France, Serbia, Russia, and Italy, as war machines. The other side of the war, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire, is a group called the Clankers, which, due to the development of the Darwinist living war machines, have built their own weapons, machines that walk on legs and move like a combination between tanks and animals.
The main characters are both thrown into this war under different circumstances. Deryn Sharp is a girl pretending to be a boy named Dylan in the British army. After her father, a balloonist dies, her mother tries to stuff her into skirts, but she rebells by leaving with her brother to join the British ranks. She is put upon a giant living warship called the Leviathan. The Leviathan is a flying whale, made up of dozens of creatures that keep it alive. It is Deryn’s job to tend to some of these “beasties.” The ship takes on a very important passenger and cargo, and new adventure begins when the ship is shot down in the Swiss Alps.
On the Clanker side of this story is Aleksander Ferdinand, the son of the Arch Duke. After his father is killed, he is taken by two of his servants in a Clanker machine called a Storm Walker, and they begin running from the people who want Alek dead. Alek is the unofficial heir to the Austria-Hungary throne. His father had married a commoner, and, thus, none of their children could inherit the throne. Due to his father’s efforts, though, many believe that Alek may be able to inherit it. Ultimately, Alek’s own country is out to kill him.
Leviathan, at first, may seem a book only for World War I enthusiasts, but this book will surprise all readers, as those who do not enjoy historical fiction will find themselves reading late into the night. The lives of Alek and Deryn, teenagers from two different sides of the war, intertwine, as the world begins to break apart.
This book does not only include an exciting storyline and personable characters, it also has fifty illustrations by artist, Keith Thompson. Thompson has done some previous artwork; although, nothing as extensive as the many sketches for Leviathan. The drawings have a great detail, showing the living airships and Clanker machines. Westerfeld discussed these illustrations at an event at Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe, Arizona, in mid-October 2009. He said that the idea behind this illustrated novel for young-adults came from viewing the books in his parents’ attic. These books, from the early to mid-1900s, had a variety of pictures, and he began to wonder why books of today did not have the same number of pictures. He explained to the crowd that after the invention of photography became common place, the drawings in books became obsolete, due to the lack of illustrators, and the rising cost of hiring artists. With Leviathan, Westerfeld wants to help bring back book illustrations for teens and adults. Many authors would not have been able to convince a publisher to print a book such as Leviathan, but due to his Uglies success, Westerfeld got his wish of an illustrated novel, and Leviathan was born.
Leviathan, released on October 2, 2010, is the first of three books; although, a guide to the world of Leviathan may be published after the end of the trilogy. Thompson and Westerfeld have already finished the first draft of the second novel, Behernoth, which will be published in October 2010, and are now hard at work on the third novel. These novels are sure to entice many, whether fans of Westerfeld’s previous books, or new readers. Thompson’s beautiful artwork and Westerfeld’s winning prose are a combination that will draw many into this new world of living war machines, giant, walking tanks, murder, battles, and excitement.


*Images courtesy of scottwesterfeld.com

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