Reviews for Leviathan


Booklist Reviews 2009 August #1
Instead of the Victorian era most often found in the steampunk genre, Westerfeld sets his new series in a Europe hovering on the edge of World War I. The ingenious premise is that Europe is divided not only into traditional historical camps, but also into Darwinists, who genetically manipulate animal "life-strands" into beasts and even whole self-contained ecosystems with wondrous capabilities, and Clankers, whose imposing constructions of metal and gears are a marvel of technological wizardry. Deryn Sharp, from Darwinist England, disguises herself as a boy to enlist on the Leviathan, a flying whale-ship, while Prince Alek, recently orphaned son of Archduke Ferdinand, finds himself on the run in a sort of walking Clanker tank. The plot is boosted almost entirely by exciting and sometimes violent fight sequences, but reading about (and seeing, thanks to Thompson's ample, lavish, and essential illustrations) the wildly imaginative creatures and machines provides nearly as much drive. Fans of Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines (2003) or Kenneth Oppel's Airborn (2004) will be right at home in Westerfeld's alternate reality. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.

----------------------
BookPage Reviews 2009 October
Westfeld sails into history with a whale of a tale

What if World War I was fought with giant walking machines and genetically modified monsters instead of airplanes and ammunition? What if, instead of telephones and radios, long-distance communication was carried out by talking lizards and trained birds? What if our version of history was somehow turned on its head and futuristic tales were spun instead? 

This is just what happens in Scott Westerfeld’s exciting new novel for young adults, Leviathan. Westerfeld treats readers to a captivating story about a young boy in the early 1900s, who happens to be the orphaned son of Archduke Ferdinand. History teaches us that the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife ignited the sparks that led to World War I. In Leviathan, this bit of history remains the same, but the details of the war are dramatically different: Britain and her allies are armed with a fleet of Darwinian-created “beasties,” including a flying, hydrogen-burping whale, while Austria and her allies fight with enormous “clankers” made of metal and gears, and run by classic engines.

For Westerfeld, whose previous works for teens include the Uglies and Midnighters trilogies, writing in the genre known as “steampunk” has been an interesting challenge. “It’s about rewriting history in an alternative way—and making it better,” he says in a telephone interview from New York, a day after arriving in the city from his native Australia. Westerfeld and his wife Justine Larbalestier, also a successful YA author, divide their time between the two locations.

Although steampunk has been around for awhile (think H.G. Wells and Jules Verne), it gained notoriety in the 1980s and ’90s. The genre gets its name from the time period in which most stories are set, the Victorian era, when steam power was king. Westerfeld became aware of the genre when he came across a role-playing game called Space 1899, in which players explore futures that could have been. “That was the first time I realized that people were really doing this stuff and thinking it through,” he says. 

Westerfeld especially enjoyed researching and writing about the technology of the era. “Everything looked weird at the time, sort of clunky and fantastical: airplanes had three wings, tanks looked like boilers on tractor treads,” he says. He particularly liked researching zeppelins—both the original giant flyers and his own genetically fabricated creations. “I have a big airship fetish,” Westerfeld admits, “and thought a living airship would be a kind of fascinating thing.” To do research, he and Justine went to the headquarters of Zeppelin Corporation in Switzerland, where a smaller version of the historically giant airships are still being produced. “We got to go up in one and that was cool,” Westerfeld says.

He also drew a bit of inspiration from the biological sciences: Darwin and his true-life granddaughter Dr. Nora Darwin

Barlow play major roles in the book.  “Scientists of that era were the original action hero-adventurers,” Westerfeld explains, “and I thought it would be fun to make Darwin a character.” Indeed, the author takes Darwinian philosophy to a new level, creating a world in which Darwin has discovered DNA threads and has been able to manipulate them to create hybrid animal species: jellyfish that float through the air like hot air balloons, lizards that talk like parrots, and of course, the title creature Leviathan, the aforementioned flying whale.

To help us visualize these fanciful creatures, Westerfeld enlisted the artful talents of Keith Thompson, who created more than 50 illustrations for the book. “It was a very collaborative process,” he says. “He did with the pictures the same thing I was doing with the text. It was like being a novelist and an art director at the same time.” After Thompson drew the magnificent creatures and ornate machines that Westerfeld had imagined, the author edited the text to reflect the details that Thompson had added.

Westerfeld’s exuberance for the technology of the era—and beyond—comes through clearly in his writing. From mechanized horses to metal-eating bats, eight-legged battleships and light-producing earthworms, he has created a world where technological and biological sciences collide. “It’s a war between two completely different world-views,” he notes.

The same could be said of the early 20th century, and the events of the era created fodder for Westerfeld’s storyline. “The great thing about doing historical research is that you can look back and say, if they had only done this it could have all been different. It’s a fascinating perspective.” By creating the alternate reality of Leviathan, Westerfeld is able to inspire his readers—young and old—to think about what really did happen at that time in history, how close we might have come to the fictional story, and how the fate of the world can hinge on seemingly innocuous events.

Heidi Henneman writes from New York.

Copyright 2009 BookPage Reviews.

----------------------
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2010 Spring
Westerfeld's new series features a mix of alternative history and steampunk. As WWI breaks out, Prince Aleksandar and his advisers flee to the Swiss Alps. Meanwhile, Deryn Sharp, disguised as a boy, is aboard the British airship Leviathan, which crashes near Alek's estate. As the two meet and begin the complicated dance of diplomacy, the story and characters come to life. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

----------------------
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2009 #6
The ever-popular Westerfeld opens his newest series with a mix of alternative history and steampunk (a science fiction subgenre that fuses futuristic and antiquated elements). As World War I breaks out, Prince Aleksandar and his advisers escape the enemies of his father, the assassinated Archduke, and flee to a remote estate in the Swiss Alps. Meanwhile, Deryn Sharp, a girl disguised as a boy, is on board the British airship Leviathan, which eventually crashes near Alek's estate. To this point the plot feels leaden and the characters seem one-dimensional, but as the two sides -- the German Clankers and their traditional mechanical technology on the one hand and the English Darwinists with their contrasting biotechnology on the other -- meet and begin the complicated dance of diplomacy, the story and the characters come to life. A hasty, collaborative effort raises the Leviathan, and our protagonists escape to the Ottoman Empire -- and the second installment. Though the book shows promise, it's too early to tell how the series will compare with the work of Philip Reeve (in the Hungry City Chronicles) and Kenneth Oppel (in Airborn and sequels), which currently set the gold standard for steampunk in the young adult field. Copyright 2009 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

----------------------
Kirkus Reviews 2009 September #1
The fate of many rests in the hands of an Austrian schoolboy and a British airman, both in disguise. Alek is the son of the recently assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, hiding from European nations hostile to his father. Midshipman Dylan is really Deryn, a girl passing as a boy in order to serve in the British Air Service. Alek has fled home in a steam-powered Stormwalker, one of the great manned war machines of the Central Powers. Meanwhile, Deryn's berth is on a massive airbeast, a genetically engineered hydrogen-breather, one of the Darwinist ships of the Allied Powers. The growing hostilities of what is soon to become the Great War throw the two together, and Darwinists and Clankers must work together if they all want to survive. Two Imperial forces meet, one built with steam and the other built with DNA, producing rich, vivid descriptions of the technologies that divide a continent. The setting begs comparisons to Hayao Miyazaki, Kenneth Oppel and Naomi Novik, but this work will stand--or fly--on its own. (Science fiction. 12-15) Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

----------------------
Library Journal BookSmack
Westerfeld's book starts on the eve of World War I but then moves away from history and off into fiction. After the Arhduke's assassination, it's the Clankers, devotees of machines, and the Darwinists, followers of genetic development, who are set against each other in global conflict. The Archduke's son, Prince Aleksander, a devout Clanker, flees Austria. On the other side of the conflict is Deryn Sharp, a girl pretending to be a young man in the British Air Services. Except they don't fly planes-they fly the Leviathan, an enormous flying whalelike creature. When she crashes in Switzerland and meets young Alexsander, the differences between their beliefs are no longer clear. A sequel, Behemoth, was published last year, and a third book, Goliath, will come out later in 2011. - "SteamPunk" Booksmack! 6/16/11 (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

----------------------
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 August #4

Launching a planned four-book series, Westerfeld (the Uglies series) explores an alternate 1914 divided between Darwinists, who advocate advanced biotechnology, and Clankers, masters of retrofuturistic mechanical engineering. Austria-Hungary's Prince Aleksandar is whisked away into the night by trusted advisers; he soon learns that his parents, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Countess Sophie, have been murdered and that he has been targeted by prowar Germans. Half a continent away, Deryn Sharp successfully passes as a young man to join the British Air Service; her bravery during a catastrophic first flight aboard a genetically enhanced jellyfish ("The creatures' fishy guts could survive almost any fall, but their human passengers were rarely so lucky") earns Deryn a post on the living airship Leviathan. The fortunes of war lead Aleksandar and Deryn to the Swiss Alps, where they must cooperate or face destruction at the hands of the Germans. The protagonists' stories are equally gripping and keep the story moving, and Thompson's detail-rich panels bring Westerfeld's unusual creations to life. The author's fully realized world has an inventive lexicon to match--readers will be eager for the sequels. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)

[Page 62]. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

----------------------
School Library Journal Reviews 2009 September

Gr 7 Up--This is World War I as never seen before. The story begins the same: on June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife are assassinated, triggering a sequence of alliances that plunges the world into war. But that is where the similarity ends. This global conflict is between the Clankers, who put their faith in machines, and the Darwinists, whose technology is based on the development of new species. After the assassination of his parents, Prince Aleksandar's people turn on him. Accompanied by a small group of loyal servants, the young Clanker flees Austria in a Cyklop Stormwalker, a war machine that walks on two legs. Meanwhile, as Deryn Sharp trains to be an airman with the British Air Service, she prays that no one will discover that she is a girl. She serves on the Leviathan, a massive biological airship that resembles an enormous flying whale and functions as a self-contained ecosystem. When it crashes in Switzerland, the two teens cross paths, and suddenly the line between enemy and ally is no longer clearly defined. The ending leaves plenty of room for a sequel, and that's a good thing because readers will be begging for more. Enhanced by Thompson's intricate black-and-white illustrations, Westerfeld's brilliantly constructed imaginary world will capture readers from the first page. Full of nonstop action, this steampunk adventure is sure to become a classic.--Heather M. Campbell, formerly at Philip S. Miller Library, Castle Rock, CO

[Page 176]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

----------------------
VOYA Reviews 2009 October
Awakened in the middle of the night, fifteenyear- old Prince Aleksandar, son of Archduke Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, at first thinks he is headed out for some night training in one of the family's Stormwalker war machines. His teachers, however, have entirely different motives for getting the Prince out of the castle. Alek's parents have been assassinated, and his life is in danger. Meanwhile fifteen-year-old Deryn Sharp, who studied flight with her now dead father, is so desperate to continue her studies that she has convinced her brother to help her pass as "Dylan" and join the British Air Service. Unlike the "Clankers" of Germany and Austria who depend on machines, the Darwinists of France and England use fabricated beasts (genetically engineered animals) in all aspects of their lives. On a short trip up in a hydrogen-breathing, balloon-like Huxley (a huge animal based on a jellyfish), Deryn flies off course and ends up joining the crew of the whale ship Leviathan. Through battle and circumstance, the two end up becoming friends and find their missions and their lives entwined in this first volume of a new series by the author of the popular Uglies series. Set in 1914, alternate-history science fiction combines well with Thompson's fabulously detailed illustrations but gets a bit of its base science wrong. The inventiveness of the milieu, however, more than makes up for it. The characters are not as engaging or the story as compelling as the many battle sequences, but there is much here to interest fans of Reeve's Hungry Cities series or the less-juvenile fantasies of Hayao Miyazaki. --Timothy Capehart. 4Q 3P M J Copyright 2009 Voya Reviews.

----------------------