Thursday, March 1

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

When the peacemaking Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife are killed, their son, Alek, escapes in the dead of night. With no claim as the heir of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he is still a threat to the Clankers who wish to wage war. Alek must pass as a commoner and hide his true identity if he is to survive.

It isn't long before Clankers meet Darwinists. Unlike the powers of Germany and Austro-Hungary, which revere their machinery, the Darwinists fabricate their ships and weapons - living, breathing war machines. On board the Darwin ship "Leviathan" is Deryn, a girl disguised as a boy. When her and Alek's paths cross, there is more at stake for both of them than ever before.

Will Deryn be revealed for the girl she is and thrown out of the Air Force? Will Alek reach safety before his title is discovered?

With at least three of my close friends having Scott Westerfeld as one of their favourite authors, I knew I was in for a decent read with one of his books. What resulted (while not a "read" on my part, as I listened to the book on audio) was far more spectactular.

Past meets prospective future in this alternate telling of the beginning of World War I. The Darwinists are able to manipulate DNA and fabricate new, extraordinary creatures. The Clankers machinery has risen up to new heights to challenge the designs of the Darwinists. Both sides have inventions which have only been touched upon today but somehow it seems plausible in the reality of 'Leviathan.'

There is never a dull moment in the novel. There is plenty of action throughout and the tension and intrigue is constant. I was gripped by Alek's struggles and fascinated by the Leviathan. It reminded me of something à la Doctor Who, only this creature is the machine. The men work inside of it and its fabricated biological structure is what powers it.

Throwing aside the obvious divide of the oppositions in WWI, I was struck by the moral notions of the Clankers and the Darwinists. Man's love affair with machine is nothing new - bigger, bolder, brazen machines for the Clankers - but the idea of fabricating creatures for the sole purpose of weapons or war ships is something new.

Forget the Germans and forget the British for a moment. Who would you be in a war, a Clanker or a Darwinist? I have to admit I found the Leviathan and the other beasties far more intriguing than the walkers but I'm the sort of person who gets miffed by people who use dogs and horses as tools for their own gain. Even so, I was fascinated by the concept and the contrast between Deryn and Alek's worlds.

The real reason I finally got into this book when it had been dangled in front of my eyes so many times was because I was reeled in by the audio book narration. Alan Cumming narrates 'Leviathan' brilliantly. Not only because of his excellence with the characters' accents but also because he nails Alek and Deryn's narrative voices, which are quite distinct despite the book being written in third person.

One thing the physical copy of the book has which the audio book doesn't is the illustrations by Keith Thompson. Thus, I popped into my local book store to take a gander. I was interested to see how certain characters were depicted by Thompson, particularly Count Volger, Dr. Barlow and Tazza.

The illustrations were stunning. With every image I knew which part of the story it was from, without checking the chapter. It clarified the depictions of some of the beasties, including the Leviathan. Seeing the characters walk inside it, with the ribs arching above them, was remarkable.

There is an afterword in the novel from the author. I can only assume that on the audio book it is him speaking, since it isn't Cumming. It was fascinating to learn all the elements of the story that are factual or partly factual. For instance, the true background of the Austro-Hungarian royals and the existence of the Tasmanian tiger, to name only a couple of things mentioned in the afterword.

I am eager for the next installment, 'Behemoth', although there is no doubt of my forsaking Thompson's marvelous illustrations in favour of Cumming's narration.

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer purchased this book. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Simon Pulse and is used solely as an aide to the review.

1 comment:

Julie W said...

I can't believe I didn't know that Alan Cummings narrated this book! I love him, and I love this series, so I am definitely going to get my hands on a copy of this installment!! Thanks for the awesome review:)

I'm visiting from the Saturday Situation link up :D