Saturday, December 29, 2012

Literary PSA: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Recently I decided to start a NEW THING: Literary Public Service Announcements. Essentially, I'm going to pimp a book that I read before I started blogging, but that I want to foist upon the world due to it's high levels of sheer awesomeness, for the good of the public and all that jazz. Instead of me just telling people over and over that they should read something "JUST BECAUSE!!!1!", I've decided to actually explain in a more eloquent fashion just why my favorite books are my favorites.

Last time on Literary Public Service Announcements: SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo.

And now this week's PSA: 

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.

Leviathan is one of those books that you love mostly because you know you would have loved it as a kid. That sounds more negative than I intended. I straight up LOVE this book. It's not completely perfect but it's oh so much fun. If I'd read this book as a ten-year-old (I was the definition of a "read-upper"), I would have been obsessed with it.

Confession: I'm a history nut. I was that obnoxious kid in history class who corrected the teacher when she got her dates wrong (I only did that ONCE, okay? It was eighth grade and I was a brat). So when I heard about a STEAMPUNK ALTERNATE HISTORY OF WWI, I was like Sign. Me. Up. I will read all day about long ago wars and heirs of Empires and girls-disguised-as boys. Those are all of my favorite things.

In Westerfeld's version, the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany) are Clankers, meaning they're all about technology and metal steampunk war machines like two-legged Stormwalkers. The Allies (Great Britain, France, Russia) are Darwinists. Their war machines are not fabricated from metal, but from life. They've managed, using Darwin's theories, to harness animal's "life strands" and cross-breed them into magnificently awesome things like the titular Leviathan: a huge flying machine made from a living whale. All of their war tools are living: bomber bats, hot air balloon jellyfish, messenger lizards.

Having trouble picturing it? FEAR NOT, because the book comes with beautiful illustrations! Like so:

Prince Alek is the fictional son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who you either know as the heir of the Austrian Empire whose assassination started WWI, or as the dude that band was named for. Either is fine. You don't need to have much history knowledge to follow along with Leviathan. Alek, a Clanker, is on the run in a Stormwalker from the Germans and the Austrians, both of whom are trying to kill him. The other protagonist is Deryn Sharp, a Scottish girl who has disguised herself as a boy to become a military Airman.

This story is full of adventure and action and originality. The Leviathan itself is completely fascinating. I could have read about the complex fabricated ecosystem that makes it work forever. Deryn and Alek as characters feel a little underdeveloped-- we learn almost nothing about their lives before the book starts, particularly Deryn's-- but they come alive as the book progresses. And besides, the world around them is so amazingly realized that it just doesn't matter. And I actually loved Deryn. She is hilarious, brash, and brave, even if she doesn't feel like a girl in any way. The two MCs don't meet until halfway through the book, but when they do, that's when the magic happens. Clankers think Darwinist creations are ungodly, while Darwinists think Clankers crude, cold, and inferior. They're opposite characters that play off each other perfectly. And British Dr. Barlow is one kickass lady scientist with an awesome animal sidekick.

Tazza the thylacine. I want one.

The sequels to Leviathan, Behemoth and Goliath, are even better. The world-building astounds me at every turn. If you love steampunk, I'd recommend this in an instant. And if you haven't got much steampunk experience, I'd recommend starting here.


  1. Despite gifting it to you I have not read it. Great psa... I will be moving it up on my tbr list!

    1. Yay! I hope you love it. I can't thank you enough for giving it to me! You are the bestest Secret Santa EVER.

  2. What! Nobody told me this book had PICTURES. For some reason this makes a huge impact in how much I want a book. I blame all these comic book scattered around my room...

    1. I KNOW, RIGHT? I love pictures. The pictures totally sold it for me.

  3. Oh, I love the illustrations. Gorgeous!

  4. I haven't read any steampunk, though I do have quite a few on my TBR list. I always passed this book by, never checking to see what it was about. Not only does this sound like a great book but I love it when books have illustrations to accompany the story. Definitely added to my TBR list.

  5. I majored in International Studies in college and I just love books like this!:) I recently won a copy of this and I'm excited to finally read it!:)

  6. I haven't read many steampunk novels, but the genre has always interested me. This book sounds awesome, will be adding to my need to read list.


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