Monday, December 3, 2012
Simon Pulse, 2009
Plot Summary: World War II is about to begin. The Austro-Hungarians and the Germans are the Clankers—relying on their steam-driven machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The opposing side—the Europeans—are the Darwinists who employ fabricated animals as their weapons. War is about to be declared between the empires because Aleksander Ferdinand’s father has just been killed and his own people have turned against him. He is now on the run with only four trusted men at his side. Deryn, aka Dylan, Sharp is also hiding her true self—disguised as a boy she enlists in the British Air Service intent on following her dream of piloting the fabricated animal ships and she plans on becoming a better airman than most men. When Deryn’s ship—the large whale called Leviathan—is shot out of the sky by Clanker ships and lands in the deserted Swiss Alps, Alek, hiding in the last stronghold of his family’s (and abandoned castle), risks everything to see if he can aid survivors and gets caught in the process. Knowing who the boy must be, they agree to take him and his men with them and work together as allies to get the Leviathan back up in the air. The only problem—the Clankers know where they are and are coming to stop them.
Critical Evaluation: Leviathan is a great introduction for teens into the interesting mash-up genre of steampunk. It has all the right elements—an alternative history, mechanical gadgets and technical marvels that would not have existed in the story’s (real) timelines, and two protagonists—one boy, one girl—who share the spotlight of the narrative equally making the story appeal to both genders. I have to say that I was more attracted to the Darwinists and their scientific means of advancement—modifying animals to turn them into living ships, bugs that eat and poop out weapons, hydrogen sniffing dogs, giant elephants, etc. They also show compassion for the creatures they create. The descriptions of the Clankers’ means of war dragged on with too many mechanical descriptions which seemed to slow the story down. Some readers might agree that nuts and bolts aren’t as exciting as living creatures that are modified but some readers might be more attracted to the mecha aspects of the story as mechanical things are a prime fixture of steampunk stories.
Reader's Annotation: Giant mechanical warriors? Large airships made out of living animals? In this alternate WWII history we see a great war between the Clankers and their mechanical contraptions and the Darwinists and their evolved scientific animal creations.
Author Information: Scott Westerfeld is the author of 18 novels for adults and young adults. He has also been an occasional ghost writer. He is best known for my four sets of books for young adults. The most recent is the Leviathan trilogy. His most famous works are those of the Uglies series. He was born in Texas, and splits his time between New York City and Sydney, Australia, where is wife, fellow YA author Justine Larbalestier, was born (Westerfeld, 2012).
Genre: Steampunk, Science Fiction
Curriculum Ties: Tie together with an alternative WWII history, great for what if discussions.
Booktalking Ideas: Read about the insects that poop out weapons!
Reading Level/Interest Age: 14+
Challenge Issues: N/A
Challenge Defense: N/A
Reason for Inclusion: A must have introduction for the steampunk genre. Also purchase for collection the rest of the series: Behemoth and Goliath.