Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (2010) 485 p.
This is the second book in Scott Westerfeld’s inventive steampunk YA trilogy, in which World War I is reimagined as a swashbuckling adventure in which the Central Powers use enormous robotic fighting machines while the Allies use genetically engineered creatures for war, from the kraken-like beasts of the Royal Navy to the “fighting bears” of the Russian Army. Having escaped Europe aboard the Royal Navy airship Leviathan, heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne Alek and his girl-disguised-as-a-boy friend Deryn find themselves in Istanbul, melting pot of cultures, a city and a nation on the brink of a revolution and being tugged both ways by the Clankers and the Darwinists to join the war.
On paper these books are good – imaginative, swashbuckling, well-written and deftly plotted. It’s sort of hard for me to objectively judge them. I find my attention wandering, but maybe that’s my fault. I’d never say I’m too old to be reading YA fiction (because nobody is) but maybe I want something more complex than cliche dilemmas (noble boy in commoner’s clothing, tomboy in a man’s world) and sound and fury set pieces (lots of giant robots and crashing destruction). Or maybe I’m unfavourably comparing the trilogy to the masterpiece of YA fiction that is Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines series – which is also unfair, since my love of that series probably stems in part from nostalgia, i.e. the fact that I read it when I was actually a Young Adult. (The days, man. Those were the days.)
So what can I say? Never mind my self-indulgent fretting. I can say with some conviction that Behemoth is a worthy successor to Leviathan, that it’s solid YA adventure fiction, and that if I’d read it in high school I would have loved it. Adult readers – your mileage may vary.