Sunday, February 21, 2016

Teen review: Steampunk series

by Scott Westerfeld
448 Pages
Book 1 of the Leviathan Trilogy
Grade recommendation: 6th-9th grades

Reviewed by Kira T., Grade 9

Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan is a biopunk/steampunk novel of alternate history set in Europe during World War I. In Westerfield’s compelling adaptation of the massive war, Clanker countries (in which society relies on steam-driven machinery) are pitted against Darwinist countries (in which fabricated animals are used for transportation, labor, and weaponry). The novel follows Deryn (or Dylan) Sharp, a courageous girl who dresses as a man to pursue her dreams of becoming a midshipman in the British air force, and Prince Aleksander (Alek), an intelligent boy forced to flee his homeland of Austria-Hungary after the assassination of his parents. The two young protagonists are brought together through an incident involving the massive Darwinist air-beast, the Leviathan, and their groups are forced to overcome their differences for the sake of their survival and their respective missions.

What made the book a favorite read for me was Westerfeld’s fascinating inventions from both the Clanker and Darwinist countries. Whether I was reading about Cyclops Stormwalkers (two-legged machines specializing in combat) or Hydrogen Sniffers (dog-like creatures bred to sniff hydrogen leaks on airships), I was always captivated by the critical role each creature and machine later played in the outcome of the story. 

Another favorite aspect of the book is its historic and scientific allusions. Dr. Nora Darwin Barrow, for example, was the actual granddaughter of Charles Darwin, and her pet, Tazza, a thylacine, was a real animal who would have been alive during the time of the story, although that beast had been hunted to extinction by 1936. The references laced throughout the novel encourage the reader to look deeper into the events that inspired the book. This helps to keep the reader engaged and connected to the story.

I give this novel a 4.5/5. The characters are lovable, the plot remains consistent and captivating, and Westerfeld’s intriguing creatures and machines made this book hard to put down. The only criticism I have of the novel is the half-developed romantic relationship between Deryn and Alek. I feel that it didn't add enough to the growth of either character and was even a bit of a distraction from the compelling plot. However, even with the unnecessary addition of an out-of-place, awkward relationship between the otherwise brilliantly written characters, Leviathan still stands as one of my favorite books.

Editor's note: The other books in the series are Behemoth and Goliath; Burbank Public Library offers all three, as well as The Manual of Aeronautics: An Illustrated Guide to the Leviathan Series. (It's really cool--check it out!)

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