Sunday, January 24, 2010

Leviathan

I first came to know Scott Westerfeld as I was reading through the list of stories on the Hugo Awards short list...or maybe it was the long list...It was pretty long...anyway, the list of stories that had received votes, but didn't make the final ballot. He had written a story called Ass-hat Magic Spider. I took one look at the title and said, "That's a story for me!" I rushed out and read it right away. It was a great story, and someday, if we ever get some money to pay people with for the podcast, I will make this story one of the first we buy.

So, when I saw a Scott Westerfeld book on my library's shelves, I checked it out right away.

Leviathan is a YA Steampunk novel. It's not just your average, run of the mill Steampunk, however (if there is such a thing for such a new sub-genre). In the world of Leviathan, the powers of Europe have gone in two very distinct technological directions. There's the Clankers, so named because their technology involves metal, steam power, engines, and the like. The nations German speaking nations of Europe seem to be the ones that have invested heavily in this traditional Steampunk technology (if there is such a thing for such a new sub-genre). Then there's the Darwinists. The Darwinists use some form of genetic engineering to create creatures to do the work that machines would do. The Darwinists are what we called the Allies, Britain, France, and Russia (although, Britain is really the only one we discuss in this book, so I'm not sure if France and Russia do the Darwinist thing).

The titular character...I guess you can't really call it a character, but sometimes it seemed to be close...the Leviathan, is the British airship that is made from the combination of a lot of different DNA, a whale being the most obvious. Somehow, these Darwinists have created creatures that, as part of their digestion, fart hydrogen into a giant gas bag. It uses this hydrogen filled bladder, to float through the air, and then the British military outfits it like a Zeppelin.

This part was the most interesting to me. It really got my mind reeling, imagining the possibilities. It makes me want to write a story myself that incorporates these Darwinist creatures.

To the story. It begins as Europe stands on the brink of World War I. We have two main characters in the book, Alek and Deryn. Alek is the son of the Archduke Ferdinand. If you rememeber your history classes from high school, you know that things don't go well for Archduke Ferdinand. At the start of the book, Ferdinand is assassinated, and Alek, with the help of some loyal servants, flees into the night to avoid a similar fate. Deryn is a Scottish girl whose father used to experiment with ballooning. Her father met a tragic accident, and Deryn has missed him greatly. Now, although girls are not allowed, Deryn has decided to join up with the British Air Service. She pretends to be a boy, and manages, with the help of the knowledge that her father bestowed on her, to get accepted into the service.

The two, of course, are on a collision course, although it's hard to see where it will come from, but eventually they meet up. Then the sparks fly. Alek tries to keep the fact that he is the son of the Archduke a secret, and Deryn does the same with the fact that she is a girl.

The book is very interesting, but I have to admit that it didn't hook me completely. It is the first in a trilogy, so nothing was resolved at the end. We'll have to see where it is going as the rest of the volumes come out in the future. I am interested, but I had hoped to be a lot more hooked. Maybe it's because it's set so far in the past in an era that I know relatively little about. Perhaps if it was WW2 rather than WW1 I would have been able to get more immersed in it. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a bad book at all. It was mindbogglingly cool to read about some of the things Westerfeld invented for this world. But the characters just didn't pull me in completely. I do plan on reading the later books though, so we'll see how that goes.

Up next for me? I came across an Orson Scott Card book that I hadn't read. I have been a pretty big fan of the guy ever since I read Ender's Game for the first time in high school. So my next book is Magic Street. I know nothing about it, so all I can say is I hope it's good.

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