Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Book Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Before I start this review I need to explain what steam punk is, because steam punk is an important factor in why this book is cool. Steam punk is a very specific kind of science fiction writing. The basic idea is that we assume the steam technology that allowed for trains and other devices to be created came much earlier in the time line than it did in real life. This assumption results in there being airplanes long before there really were airplanes. Depending on when the technology boost happened steam punk can be a extremely varied genre.

Scott Westerfeld is a master at making his science fiction seem real. He is most know for his notable series called Pretties. It takes place in the future and he created the entire world in such complete detail that he released a book simply to explain the science and language of this made up future. Which puts him in a classes with Tolkien.

Leviathan is the tale of World War I in an alternate reality. In this alternate reality the Allies depend on genetically altered animals while the Axis use high class machinery. The story explains that not only did Charles Darwin figure out evolution, he discovered DNA and how to manipulate it. This means that fabricated animals exist with specific purposes. In the mean time giant war ships, and for those of us who watch anime, gundam like machines patrol Germany and Austra- Hungry.

The book begins on the eve of the assassination of the Arch Duke (the same arch duke who's real assassination began the real war). In this reality he as one son Prince Aleksandar who with the help of his fencing teacher is smuggled out of palace at night, because in this reality the Arch Duke found a way to make his son legitimate (something that was not true in our world).

We also meet Deryn Sharp, a young girl posing as a boy in order to work on an airship. Her father was one of the founding fathers of the flight exploration and she longs to ride a "Helium Breather." Deryn through an interested chain of events ends up on Leviathan, the flag ship air beast in English aviation. Alek makes his way to the same ship but giving away how would ruin all the fun.

Westerfeld knows what he is doing when it comes to writing science fiction in the teen category. This book takes a twist because he has pages illustrated just like they would have been around the time of World War I. The book ends a little soon for my taste but seeing as the sequel is already out I am anticipating a trilogy.

Steam punk is not something everyone can like, but this book doesn't really shove it down your throat. Also Westerfeld hold close to nearly all the original historical events with only minor adjustments to the time line of the beginning of WWI. He even explains the differences at the end of the book. The illustrations help bring some of the more fantastical creatures to light and make them real. Sure there is alot of stuff that might go over people's head the first read through but the story is so very much about learning the world, and knowing the characters that it shouldn't be too scary.

Final Verdict: Buy it. Well buy it if you like science fiction or steam punk. The maps that are part of the hard cover edition are awesome. Also Westerfeld makes you work for it when it comes to details in sequels so you will need to go back and look things up.

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