Let me start by saying that I have not read Uglies. I own it and have read the first chapter three times. I’m even intrigued by the characters and the introduction to the plot but for some reason I cannot get into it.
So, I was surprised at how excited I was to read this. I didn’t even pause to think I wouldn’t be buying it. Maybe because its steampunk and I love steampunk, maybe because it has that awesomely beautiful cover, or maybe because it rewrites the history surrounding WWI. I’m not sure, but I’m so glad I did.
The book centre’s around two main characters, Aleksander and Deryn. Aleksander is the fictional son of two real people. Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Princess Sophie (I think I got that right, their weird marriage and titles are a little confusing), and the book starts off the night they are murdered, the beginning of the Great War.
Just as in actually history Westerfeld has WWI be more about weapons and the leaders of countries showing off. But the type of weapons have changed. It’s no longer tanks and machine guns. The Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungry, and Italy, in this book sometimes called The Clankers, have steam-powered iron machines. Some of the machines look vaguely humanoid, some like giant insects that scuttle across the ground. All are fast, heavy and heavily armed.
Deryn is a fifteen year old girl from Scotland who wants to fly. Her, now deceased, father used to take her up in an air balloon and she has never loved anything as much as flying with dad. And now she wants nothing more than to join the Air Service so she can fly all the time.
The only problem being they only accept males. So, Deryn becomes Dylan and is quickly made a midshipman on the great living airship, Leviathan.
The Triple Entent of the United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire do not use giant iron machines. They are Darwinists, and use genetically manipulated animals as weapons. The Leviathan is a living, breathing animal.
I enjoyed Westerfeld’s representation of the weapons conflict that actually did happen in Europe. His fictional one, of Darwinists versus Clankers almost makes more sense than what actually happened, as WWI was the war of “I have more tanks than you, nanner, nanner, nanner.” In Leviathan we see that the two sides don’t trust one another’s technology. Westerfeld weaves the history and sci-fi together seamlessly.
Despite all of the history intermingled with fantasy and science-fiction, what I loved most about the book was the characters. Alek the spoiled rich kid who isn’t a snob and Deryn the commoner determined to go after her dreams. Their journey’s were intriguing and kept me turning the pages, eager for more.
Westerfeld’s description of the weird science in the story was very artfully handled. The details made sense, were informative and didn’t take over the story. There has been so much steampunk where the plot is just a tool to describe the authors mechanical ideas. That did not happen here, thankfully.
I had one pet peeve, and it probably isn’t something most people would pick up on. Near the beginning of the book, Deryn goes for a ride on something similar to a hot air balloon. But instead of being in a basket she’s is free hanging from a harness, her legs dangling. And because of gravity affecting a person’s circulation, if one were to actually do this for as long as she did, they would probably be dead. Or at least have severe brain damage. And this wasn’t really addressed at all.
But like I said, most people aren’t aware of this and probably wont find it distracting.
All in all, it was a fast paced, enjoyable read and the ending definitely left me wanting more.