Blue whales are big animals. The biggest animals. The largest ever recorded blue whale was 98.1 feet long. The Leviathan is 949.75 feet long. Now, you must be thinking: How is that possible? What is a Leviathan? Well, the Leviathan is a whale. A really big whale. And it serves as the setting for the book I read with the same name, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.
Leviathan was published in 2009. Interestingly, the book has numerous black-and-white drawings, drawn by Keith Thompson. Leviathan won both the Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel as well as the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Science Fiction. In order to make his novel more realistic, Westerfeld researched airships before writing Leviathan.
There are two main characters in Leviathan and a host of supporting characters. The story starts with Alek, a young man, nearly 16 years old. His father is Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria-Hungary. Alek has had years of military training, and wishes to be able to watch military walker maneuvers.
Dylan Sharp is an airman. He lived in London. Years of home education in aeronautics with his now-dead father quickly shoot him to being one of the top midshipmen. However, he has a secret. “Dylan” is actually named Deryn, and she is a girl.
Dr. Nora Darwin Barlow is a brilliant scientist and also a constant annoyance for Dylan. She genetically modifies and grows animals as organic weapons against the Clankers. While she is essential to the military force, her official job is the head of the London Zoological Society.
Count Volger, similar to Dr. Barlow, is a constant annoyance, but he is a cavalry officer and wildcount. He teaches Alek how to fence, and enjoys taunting Alek whenever he wins. He is grumpy most of the time and very cynical.
The world of Leviathan is alternate history. The world is split into two major factions: the Clankers and Darwinists. Both sides have very different technologies and doctrines. Even though this book takes place during WWI, the Clankers use steam, diesel, electric powered ships, aeroplanes, and walking machines, among other things. Some examples are the Austrian Cyklop Stormwalker and the German S.S. Beowulf. The Darwinists are vastly different. They fabricate “beasties” to fight their wars and complete everyday tasks, and are rather behind on technology, since they use things like hippoesques, massive fabricated hippos to pull their taxis and power their technology. Their airbeasts, zeppelin-like living airships, are crafted from the “life threads”, or DNA, of vast sea creatures. The most important airbeast is the Leviathan, which serves as the setting for the book. It is so massive that at its highest point, the creature is two hundred feet from the ventral to dorsal sides.
Archduke Alek of Austria is on the run. He has been dethroned by his own grandfather. He is fleeing toward Switzerland, toward safety, while the Germans are in hot pursuit. His only possessions are the clothes on his back and an old walking machine, a Cyklop Stormwalker. His only allies are the crewmen of his walker. As he nears Switzerland, the Germans grow desperate.
Deryn Sharp is a girl. This is her biggest secret. Disguised as a boy, the fictitious “Dylan,” her greatest wish is to serve on the Air Service of Britain. After her father died, she has been unable to fly. In a stroke of luck, she is stranded on a balloon and rescued by the Leviathan, the greatest airship in service of the British Empire.
Unbeknownst to both, however, is the fact that they are on converging paths. A series of coincidences will lead them ever closer.
The following scene takes place in Austria, when Alek and company are being pursued by the land dreadnought S.M.S Beowulf. Soon, the encounter escalates, with the fate of Alek and his men uncertain.
Alek was still waving when the first broadside erupted, bright flashes rippling along the dreadnought’s flanks, puffs of cannon smoke swelling into a hazy veil around her. The sound followed moments later-a rolling thunder that broke into sharp, tearing bursts from every direction. The treetops churned around them, concussions shaking the Stormwalker and throwing clouds of leaves into the sky. Then Volger was dragging him back down into the cabin, the engines roaring back to life.
When I first read it, Leviathan immediately became my favorite book. It’s very creative, with great pacing and storytelling. The characters feel real, and the world is simply stunning. This is helped by Keith Thompson’s amazing drawings scattered throughout the book. In addition, the way Scott Westerfeld develops the plot and characters is superb. I highly recommend this book to any fan of science fiction.
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. Simon Pulse, 2009. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!
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