Book of the Week - Leviathan

One of the least used and yet one of the more interesting modes of storytelling is that of alternate history. Of course, it stands to reason that children's books would shy away from this considering that youngsters barely know real history. Should there really be books out there that twist and turn history on its head? If it is done well, then my answer would be a resounding yes.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld is one of those well done books. This is World War I as you have never imagined it. Some of the facts are the same. On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franze Ferdinand and his wife are assasinated, beginning a sequence of events that plunges the world into war. From there the story expands into the world of fiction. This global conflict is between the Clankers, those who put their faith in machines, and the Darwinists, whose put their faith in manufactured ships made from living organisms. See, in this parallel universe, Darwin discovered the key to DNA and soon people are making giant war ships from whales, birds, bees, and anything else you can imagine. After the assasination of his parents, Prince Aleksandar must escape with the help of a handful of faithful men. In the meantime, Deryn Sharp, is trying to become an airman, a feat that only men can do so she hides her femininity in hopes of going airborne.

This book is brilliantly constructed. The world is strange, but soon you find yourself not questioning bees in the gastro intestines of a hydro whale air ship. Westerfeld has tempered the advancements in this other society with the realities of social politics as they existed at the beginning of the 20th century: women can't vote or join the military; the divide between aristocracy and the general public is clear, distrust runs high for all technology based; ignorance and gross misunderstanding abound. To be fair, technophobia still exists, but in the case of the Darwinists versus the Clankers, personal preference and biased ideals over the dominant technological advancements are strong enough to start one of the most vicious wars in history.

The book is only enhanced by Keith Thompson's (see earlier Illustrator of the Week) beautiful black-and-white illustrations. It helps the reader see and imagine the strange creatures that inhabit this world.

There are only two drawbacks to the book. The first is the fact that the book is clearly going to be a part of a series, and yet nowhere on the cover did the book indicate this. I'm okay with things being a series as long as they tell me from the beginning. Why is it that every book that comes out these days must be a series? It wouldn't have taken much more to finish the storylines and so I wonder what Westerfeld has in store if this is a planned series. We shall see. The other complaint is that the book does start a little slow, but then again when you are creating a parallel alternative history, you do not to do some world building.

Those complaints aside, this book is full of nonstop action, and steampunk adventure is sure to become a classic.