Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (2009) 270 p.

I think I looked up Leviathan after seeing Keith Thompson’s wonderful map for the book, portraying an alternative history Europe in which the Central Powers are “Clankers” (utilising enormous, steampunk, mecha-style combat machines) and the Allies are “Darwinists” (who use genetic engineering to create living, “fabricated” war machines).

(You can see a larger, annotated version of the map here, and it’s quite fascinating to read the process behind it.)

The map is perhaps symbolic of the book itself – the only major change is the steampunk reimagining, with most of the novel playing out fairly true to history. Franz Ferdinand is assassinated in Sarajevo, and his (fictional) son Alek must flee Vienna to avoid being bumped off by his father’s rivals. With a stolen walker, he and his loyal retainers make for the Swiss border, as Europe lurches towards war. Meanwhile, young Scottish girl Deryn Sharp disguises herself as a boy to join the military, where she soon finds herself assigned to the Leviathan, a colossal flying whale-like creature which is the greatest airship of the British Air Service.

Leviathan is weighed down with quite a few genre cliches – heir to the throne on the run, steampunk mecha, girl disguised as boy, airships, etc – but Westerfeld is nonetheless a good, imaginative writer who develops his world with relish and spins an enjoyable YA yarn. The book is the first of a trilogy, and does end on something of an abrupt note, but I look forward to reading the next volume, Behemoth.

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