Leviathan. New York: Simon Pulse.
30-Second Plot Summary: An alternate history to the beginning of World War I, Leviathan switches back and forth between the points of view of Alek, a fifteen-year-old Austrian prince, who finds himself on the run after his father was assassinated and Deryn, a fifteen-year-old girl who disguises herself as a boy to join the British air service in London. Underlying their stories, Westerfeld has imagined a steampunk world in which Austrians, Germans and Swiss rely on steam-powered machines and the British, French and Russians rely on Darwinian theorized mega-beasts to drive all their technology and transportation. The Clankers vs. the Darwinists. With the death of Alek's father the different schools of thought, ways of life have finally found themselves at war.
As Alek runs to try to find a secure hiding place from the Germans, Deryn finds herself stationed on the giant sailing whale, Leviathan, desperate to prove herself and hide the fact that she is a woman. As the Leviathan is given a new mission to pick up a Darwinist scientist, paths will collide in the Swiss Alps, where neutrality won't actually prove to mean safety.
Alek and Deryn don't actually meet until mid-way through the book. But that was one of my favorite parts. That's not to say I didn't enjoy what came before. Although I wouldn't say that I was completely immersed in Leviathan, visualizing every moment of what was happening, but whenever I picked it up to read, I. Could. Not. Stop. Even when I knew I had to get up to teach in just five hours. And while I was having fun now. My students' wouldn't be having the same amount of fun the next morning when I'd be sleep deprived and moody. *Grrrrr*
I saw the book trailer for Leviathan a few months ago and was thoroughly entertained:
It does a good job of capturing the imagery and tensions of the book.
Physically, this is a stunning book. The map of Europe that makes up the endpapers is wonderful. Good for staring at longer than one person should. The illustrations throughout really helped me to visualize what was going on, especially since Westerfeld is writing about a lot of invented beasts and machines. He uses a lot of invented words to help with that. So, a lot of the time, a teacher should encourage students to "get the gist" of the descriptions and let the illustrations and their own imaginations to do the rest.
And oh man, is this book ever imaginative.
I've always considered Westerfeld to be a particularly inventive author, but this raised him up several notches in my mind.
Every two chapters the narration transitions between telling Alek and Deryn's stories. A very fair technique, but at times a little frustrating since I personally found Deryn's story more entertaining at first (girl dresses up like boy to do what society wouldn't allow = feminst funz!!!).
The book doesn't have a completely satisfying ending. Sure, one problem is overcome. But more problems have arisen and there's still a mission to be completed. And so the wait for Behemoth begins.
While not a necessary route, a teacher could pair Leviathan with a historical or information book on World War I to help students distinguish between what is historical and what fantasy. (The author's note at the end also helps do this)
A teacher can also trigger a discussion on the different energies that can be used to power a civilizations and what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each. Or a teacher could use the disagreements over the Darwinist and Clanker schools of thought as an allegory for other competing paradigms.
The book also opens itself up to discussions of the women's movement, the biography and studies of Darwin, the history of World War I and the way that individuals experience war as diplomats argue.
Quotes of Note:
"The Austrian horses glinted in the moonlight, their riders standing tall in the saddle, swords raised. Behind them two ranks of diesel-powered walking machines stood ready to fire, cannon aimed over the heads of the cavalry. A zeppelin scouted no-man's-land at the center of the battlefield, its metal skin sparkling.
The French and British infantry crouched behind their fortifications--a letter opener, an ink jar, and a line of fountain pens--knowing they stood no chance against the might of the Astro-Hungarian Empire. But a row of Darwinist monsters loomed behind them, ready to devour any who dared retreat" (p. 1).
"After all her studying and everything she'd learned when her father was alive, the middy's test would be easy. But when was in her head wouldn't matter unless she could food the Air Service boffins into believing her name was Dylan, not Deryn.
She'd resewn Jaspert's old clothes to alter their shape, and she was plenty tall-taller than most boys of midshipman's age. But height and shape weren't everything. A month of practicing on the streets of London and in front of the mirror had convinced her of that.
Boys had something else...a sort of swagger about them" (pp. 21-22).
"But before Deryn had been born, the great coal-fired engines had been overtaken by fabricated beasties, muscles and sinews replacing boilers and gears. These days the only chimney smoke came from ovens, not huge factories, and the storm had cleared even that murk from the air" (p. 66).
"A week ago Austria-Hungary had finally declared war on Serbia, vowing to avenge their murdered archduke with an invasion. A few days later Germany had started up with Russia, which meant that France would be next into the fray. War between the Darwinist and Clanker powers was spreading like a vicious rumor, and it didn't seem that Britain could stay out for long" (pp. 143-144).
"I just happened to be out hiking when I saw your ship come down."
"Out hiking?" Deryn said. "In all this barking snow? At night?"
"Yes. I often hike on the glacier at night."
Alek blinked. "Well, that was because..." There was a long pause. "Um, I'm afraid I don't know the word in English."
"The word for what?"
"I just said: I don't know it!" He turned from her and began to slide away on his funny oversize shoes. "I have to go now."
Alek's story was clearly a load of blether" (p. 241).
Tasty Rating: !!!!