“Leviathan” – Westerfeld’s Resulting World When Steampunk and Darwin Collide

Book Review : Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Spoiler Alert!

Barking spiders! The world is on the brink of WWI because the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were murdered, possibly by their own allies. Their son, Aleksander, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is on the run in a Stormwalker with a small trusted crew.

The Austrians and Germans have steam-powered iron machinery, while the British are Darwinists who have fabricated animals into weapons for war.

Deryn Sharp has set her mind to being in the British Air Service even though they don’t allow girls in the service. When testing if she had any “air sense”, Deryn gets unexpectedly pulled across London hanging from the Huxley, a fabricated hot-air balloon like beastie. She is rescued by the famous ship, Leviathan, which is better than a dream come true. As Mr. Sharp, she easily becomes a Midshipman and becomes part of the crew responsible for Dr. Nora Barlow going on a secret mission to Constantinople. The worlds of Deryn and Alek collide in the snow covered peaks of neutral Switzerland. It becomes advantageous for them to continue their journey together on the Leviathan.

Adult Point of View

Westerfeld is barking brilliant! I was completely sucked into Leviathan with an alternate world of Europe in 1914. I loved how the “clankers” were Germans with mechanical know-how, and the “Darwinists” with their beasties were English. Of course, the two sides were hopelessly lost in understanding the other side. I was grateful for the illustrations in the book because Westerfeld’s concepts of the machines and beasts were so complex and original they would have been difficult to imagine without the help.

There is lots of “swearing” through the novel, mostly things like “barking spiders” and “bum-rag”. There are a few other derogatory English words, though they don’t offend me because they aren’t part of our vernacular in America. There is some violence though not explicit and no gore.

I am giving this book a high rating because of the outrageous level of creativity and because of being based in history, though certainly an alternative universe.

In the author’s own words (from the afterword), “So Leviathan is as much about possible futures as alternate pasts. It looks ahead to when machines will look like living creatures, and living creatures can be fabricated like machines. And yet the setting also recalls an earlier time in which the world was divided into aristocrats and commoners, and women in most countries couldn’t join the armed forces – or even vote. That’s the nature of steampunk, blending future and past.”

Here is another photo of the map inside the front cover. If it doesn’t intrigue you to read this book I don’t know what would.

Children in upper Elementary could probably read Leviathan, even though there is death and the odd swearing. If they are fairly sophisticated in their reading comprehension a 10 year old could enjoy it, otherwise it is probably best for kids over 12 years old. There is a bit of romance and even a few kisses through the course of the series, but nothing alarming.

I have just finished Behemoth and Goliath in this series and thought these were equal to Leviathan. After reading Westerfeld’s version of history I was more interested to find out where the facts ended and where he started fabricating the story. I also learned new things and made new connections, such as, the meteor that fell in Russia and the Germans aiding the Mexican Revolution with arms. I’m flabbergasted that I didn’t even know how Constantine, now Istanbul, fit into the mechanics of WWI. Also, I would have thought filming the Mexican Revolution was fictional, I was certainly wrong. I loved this series and especially loved Mr. Sharp’s swagger and the barking useless Prince’s belief that he was being guided for his destiny.

I will keep my eyes open for new books written by Westerfeld.

4 out of 5 stars

– the Mother

One more tidbit, the Hagia Sophia mentioned in Behemoth is an actual structure, originally it was a cathedral for more than a thousand years, then was converted into a mosque and, is currently a museum.

There are building listed as hotels in the area, but I believe the author was thinking of the original structure and turned it into a hotel for the novel. The minarets were additions from the Ottomans.

I thought this interior shot of the dome was breathtaking. It is a fascinating building and I would love to get to see it in person if I am ever passing through Turkey. My lucky mother saw it and said said the columns that held up the dome were huge. She also said they had to carry their shoes through the museum in a plastic bag.

Teen Point of View

This book was very unique. It had an almost steam punk setting which was fun. It had its moments, but was kind of dull. I thought the style of writing was bland and a little confusing. In contrast to my mother, I don’t like pictures in my books. EVER. It makes me feel younger. But moving ahead, it was a fun book for younger kids. I suggest for kids around 8-10.

2.5 out of 5

– the Daughter

ps- The next book was better.

About Tales Untangled

I am a mother of four children and have a passion for reading. I love sharing my treasury of books with my kids. I also do experiments in cooking which includes such things as Indian Tandoori Chicken slow-cooked in a tagine. I write stories and illustrate in ink.
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