GENRE:      Steampunk
MARKET:    Young Adult
RATING:     10 Genetically-Modified Airships out of 10
SWEAROMETER:  World-Specific. Beautifully done.


I’ve been avoiding the steampunk genre for a long time, I’ll admit. The concept of grafting future technology into Victorian-esque settings has always seemed a bit . . . well, silly. Responding to a few pointed recommendations, I finally picked up an audio copy of Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.

It caught me completely by surprise, and I enjoyed every moment of it. The book is about the Great War, but the Central powers wield imaginative machinery and the Allied powers meddle in massive genetically-engineered “beasties.”

The story maintains a lively pace, alternating  viewpoints between Aleksandar, an immature Austrian prince running from his political enemies after his father’s assassination, and Deryn Sharp, an exuberant girl who has joined the Royal British (air) Navy disguised as a boy. The exposition unfolds naturally amid the action, and the characters and setting are vividly rendered. I could smell the smoking flares and machine oil in Alek’s Stormwalker. I could feel the heartbeat of Deryn’s living airship, the Leviathan, as it lumbers through a strafing run, bleeding hydrogen. I could see the massive land dreadnoughts churning the snow beneath them and hear the thunder of their cannons. And the tension only heightens when these two worlds collide and Alek and Deryn meet for the first time. (Not to be forgotten, Westerfeld’s world-appropriate swearing  is spot-on. It fits, is fun for adults, and makes the kids laugh too.)

Leviathan is an experience. The whole book is alive. Perhaps it’s Alan Cumming’s Scottish accent: his spirited performance made me laugh and rewind for the exceptionally good bits. I’ve heard the print version doesn’t disappoint, either.  It may not have clever Scottish, English, and Austrian (German) accents, but it does have fabulous illustrations.

Read Leviathan if you like upbeat, quick-paced storytelling and hilarious dialogue. Read it if you’re ready for a change from classic science fiction. Start here if you’re looking for a primer on steampunk but haven’t had the nerves to pull one off the library shelf yet.

Skip Leviathan if genetic manipulation gives you the willies, or you’re looking for something with a dark, depressing ending.

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