Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Released in October 2009.

The talented Westerfeld turns to steampunk in this first book in a new series.  Set in an alternate history on the eve of World War I, this book offers large walking mechs vs. man-made creatures that can be combined to form enormous flying and living blimps.  In this setting are two young people, Alek and Deryn.  Alek, son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, is the sole surviving person in his family now that his parents have been killed.  He just may be considered the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne if he can survive long enough.  Deryn is a girl who has always loved to fly, but in 1914 girls are not allowed to become pilots.  So Deryn becomes Dylan, a tall, lean boy and proves she is born to fly.  The reader experiences the action through the eyes of both characters living completely separate lives until history brings them violently together.

Gorgeously imagined and written with a flair for battle and a sense of wonder, this book is a winner.  The pacing is fast, the action whirling, and the history deftly placed so that even teens and youth unaware of World War I’s basic timeline will understand the implications and importance of what they are witnessing in this alternate history.  Westerfeld’s characters are caught in the vortex of history and war and spend little time offering deeper insights about their psyches, but that is part of the pleasure here.  This book is more about the incredible war machines and creatures, the awe of flying, the amazement of running in a mech, and the biological magnificence of an enormous flying creature.  As readers, we too are swept up in the imagination on the page, happily believing in the most incredible creations.

Teens will pick this novel up simply because it is a Westerfeld novel, and happily this book will also offer an entry point for younger readers to enjoy Westerfeld’s work.  While much of Westerfeld’s work is for teens, this book could be offered to 5th and 6th graders without concern.  It is a rip-roaring and gripping look at both the future and the past that readers of all ages will have trouble putting down.

Reviewed from an ARC received at ALA Annual Conference.

Also reviewed by Karin’s Book Nook.