“Leviathan” written by Scott Westerfeld and illustrated by Keith Thompson (2009)
I’m a massive Westerfeld fan, especially his Uglies series, and I’m a bit astonished to realise that this book is 6 years old. It’s been sitting on my WTB shelf for years, so maybe it’s been there all 6! There are hundreds of books on that shelf… don’t judge me!
This steampunk novel is SO good. I really enjoyed so many things about it. The characters are appealing (always an important element for me), the alternative reality of a world where Darwin’s findings on the origins of species have been taken in a whole different direction is mind boggling but simple to follow, the setting within real pre-World War I events is grounding and gives structure and logic to the otherwise astonishing removal from truth, and the adventure offers page-turning excitement. In addition, Thompson’s illustrations are not just visually appealing, but also support engagement with the plot.
The opposing forces in the book are Clankers, with their mechanical war machines, and Darwinists, with their genetically modified (fabricated) animals as weapons. The plot revolves around two key characters – The Clanker, Aleksandar Ferdinand (son of the just murdered Archduke) and Darwinist and Scottish girl, Deryn, who wants to be a pilot and goes incognito as a boy (Dylan Sharp) to achieve her dreams.
When the Leviathan, the fabricated whaleship where Deryn/Dylan serves as a midshipman, is damaged in an air fight with German planes and comes down in the Swiss Alps, Alek, who is in hiding in a fortress nearby, after fleeing his homeland following the murder of his parents, defies his companions and takes medical supplies to the stranded ship and its crew. This leads to an unusual alliance that may save Alek and be the undoing of Deryn/Dylan’s subterfuge.
I really loved this book and look forward to reading the rest of the series. I can see real value in this as a teaching text, particularly in a cross-KLA unit with History. I will be chatting with our History Elective teachers to see if we can’t come up with something fun for Stage 4 or 5.