Leviathan (Westerfeld novel)
|Genre||Steampunk, Biopunk, Alternate history|
|Publication date||October 6, 2009|
|Media type||print (hardback)|
First of a young adult fiction trilogy set in alternative version of World War I, it has German Central Powers (Clankers) using mechanized war machines opposed by British Entente Powers (Darwinists) who fabricate living creatures genetically. The heroes are teens Aleksander, son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and Deryn, Scottish girl with dreams of joining the British Air Service with her brother. The sequels are Behemoth and Goliath. The first two chapters of this book were released with Bogus to Bubbly: Insider's Guide to the World of Uglies.
It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.
Aleksandar Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battle-torn Stormwalker and a loyal crew of men.
Meanwhile, Deryn, a commoner girl is staying with her brother Jaspert in London. Her father died in a ballooning accident and her mother and aunts want her to grow up as a proper lady. Deryn dreams of joining the British Air Service and to serve on one of the great air beasts. In order to do so, she must pretend to be a boy ("Dylan Sharp"). To pass the starting exam, she goes aloft with a Huxley (a combination of jellyfish and hot-air-balloon) to prove her air-worthiness. However, a storm hits while she is aloft, severely tossing Deryn and the Huxley about, and they narrowly survive—she is forced to cut the Huxley loose from its mooring in order to avoid crashing into a nearby building. This results in Deryn and the Huxley being blown out over the North Sea; she is thrilled when she and the Huxley are rescued by the Leviathan, the most famous of the air-beasts, a massive ecosystem comprising many different animals but based largely on a whale. She is inducted into the crew of the Leviathan, and makes friends with the Monkey Luddite Newkirk. The Leviathan's mission is to transport a top British scientist (“boffin”) and a secret package to Constantinople. Deryn is surprised to learn the boffin is a woman, Dr. Nora Barlow, and is afraid Barlow will discover her secret.
In the air over Europe, the Leviathan comes under attack from German airplanes. The crew fights back and manages to defeat the planes, but not before the great whale’s hydrogen bladder is severely punctured. The airship crash-lands in Switzerland on the very glacier where Alek’s group is hiding. Alek and Volger witness the crash, but Volger insists they do nothing to interfere, as they will risk giving away their position to the Germans or being captured by the British.
Alek is unable to stomach letting the crew of the Leviathan suffer out on the ice, and secretly leaves the fortress to bring medicine to the crew of the fallen ship. The first person he finds is an unconscious Deryn, who had fallen from the rigging during the crash. Alek revives her and claims unconvincingly to be a Swiss villager. Deryn is suspicious of him and sounds the alarm, resulting in Alek’s capture. Alek continues to insist he is just a bystander trying help, but the captain refuses to release him and instead leaves him under Deryn’s charge. The secret cargo brought by Dr. Barlow is revealed to be eggs of some kind, though most were destroyed in the crash.
Alek's "family" comes to his rescue, and battle would have erupted between the two if Deryn's quick thinking in bringing Alek to the front and holding him as a hostage hadn't brought everyone to the table to talk under a flag of truce. Realizing their differences are outweighed by their similarities, Alek offers a sizable chunk from their food storage so the ship can replenish its hydrogen supply and take off again. However, as they travel back to the Leviathan, two German zeppelins appear and send out commandos to capture them. Unfortunately, one of the zeppelins escapes, and the Stormwalker is severely damaged by an aerial bomb, making it impossible to stand up and repair.
Thanks to the diplomacy of Dr. Barlow and a bright idea from Alek, the two groups decide to combine their technologies and leave together as one group. Alek also admits his true origins to Deryn/Dylan and Dr. Barlow when he realizes he let a few too many things slip. The Austrians dismantle the Stormwalker and use its engines to replace those lost by the Leviathan. The Austrian engines prove to be much more powerful than its previous ones, propelling them quickly away from danger and the deadly Herkules (Clanker Ship).
In the aftermath, Dr. Barlow reveals information about a fabricated ship in England that was sold to the Ottoman Empire but then taken back (even though it was paid in full) by Winston Churchill, thus creating rivalry among the British and the Ottomans. The novel closes with the Leviathan continuing its flight towards Constantinople with Alek watching the mysterious eggs that will hatch into some unknown fabricated species.
Deryn (Dylan) Sharp: After her father is killed in a ballooning explosion, Deryn longs to be in the sky again with the freedom that came with it as her mother and aunts try to dress her up and force to her be a proper lady. Deryn spends the remainder of her inheritance to come to London and live with her brother, where she studies to take the Midshipman exams to get into the British Air Force like her brother, but the toughest part is acting the role of boy, which she'll have to pull off in order to be accepted. It's her lucky day when her airman test goes awry and she is scooped up by the Leviathan and finishes her tests up there in order to serve aboard as a Midshipman. She is able to best many of the Middies at learning the ropes because she went up so frequently with her father and because she pays attention during class. She does her best to hide that she is a girl from everyone on board, though the observant eye of Dr. Barlow has noticed the lack of a beard on her chin, though has attributed it to Deryn lying about her age rather than being a girl. As she gets to know Alek, she realizes that she owes him her life and, after he hugs her, that she may even have feelings for him, though she quickly tries to squelch that.
Prince Aleksandar (Alek): As a boy who is in line for the throne of Hapsburg, Alek is in serious danger when his parents are killed. He spends the better part of this book on the run. He is intelligent, and capable of operating a Stormwalker. He is also fluent in various languages, such as English, French, Latin, and German. His hubris tends to get the better of him at times, and puts them in danger many times in the book.
Wildcount Volger: A rather stingy man, Volger has done an excellent job of pretending to disdain Alek and his common birth, though in fact he knows that his father has altered his previously left-handed marriage to Alek's mother (a marriage where any children born cannot inherit) to a full marriage, making Alek heir to his uncle's throne. Volger is a schemer, and had prepared for such an event as the death of Alek's father and nearly always has a plan. He is quite shrewd and trains Alek in fencing and politics, never allowing the young Prince to better him.
Dr. Nora Darwin Barlow: A female boffin is rare according to Deryn's reaction upon meeting Dr. Barlow, proving just how exceptional the doctor is in her field as well as her family: she is the granddaughter of Charles Darwin, whom the Darwinists are named after. She is also quite clever in general, figuring out various secrets with her observational skills and abilities in speaking languages. She is the creator and caretaker of a number of mysterious eggs that will hatch into a creature of her making and a weapon to bear against the Clankers.
Otto Klopp: Aleksandar's "master of mechaniks." He is sometimes referred to as Alek's tutor. He is a commoner who uses a more aristocratic accent when talking to Alek and his family and can pilot the Stormwalker and other mechanical beasts with ease.
Hoffman:One of the helpers/storm walker gunners that helps Alek escape. Also he helps put the clanker engines on the Leviathan.
Bauer:One of the helpers/storm walker gunners that helps Alek escape. Also he helps put the clanker engines on the Leviathan.
Clanker: Countries that use steam-driven iron machines are referred to as Clanker nations. The machines themselves and their users are also referred to as Clankers. The main Clanker nations are Germany and Austria-Hungary, the Central Powers. Though officially neutral, the Ottoman Empire is considered a Clanker nation as they believe Darwinist creations are against God. Characters who are part of this faction include Alek, Otto Klopp, and Wildcount Volger. The name may be a spoof of Central, the name for the alliance of these countries.
Darwinist: The Darwinist countries currently consist of Britain, France, Russia, Belgium, Algeria (a colony of France), Serbia, and Japan (Note: Japan has Clanker technology). These factions employ fabricated animals as their weaponry. An example is the Leviathan, a whale airship of the British fleet. Characters who are part of this faction include Deryn Sharp and Dr. Nora Barlow. Named after Charles Darwin, who help develop the theory of evolution and, in the universe of the book series, discovered DNA, called Life Threads in their world.
Neutral: The Ottoman Empire, despite being a society with a Clanker-oriented economy, has yet to enter the war.
Switzerland can be considered politically neutral as it is mentioned in the book several times that it is the last place for fugitives and that just by being there, the British are breaking the terms of its neutrality. Their economy seems to be Clanker-based.
America is mentioned as neutral in Behemoth, with a fusion of Clanker and Darwinist technologies. The country is split between the two, Clankers in the North (Based on its industry), Darwinist in the south (Based on its agriculture). The country joins the war by the end of Goliath on the Darwinist side, three years earlier than in our world's history.
Portugal, Spain and Italy appear to be Darwinist nations that have yet to join in the war.
- Cyklops Stormwalker: a two-legged machine designed for combat. Alek and his men use one to escape to Switzerland and give its engines to the Leviathan to escape.
- Zeppelin: a dirigible designed for air travel, transport and combat. The Germans use several to try and destroy the Leviathan.
- Dreadnaught: an enormous land ship with side-mounted cannons. Essentially designed for combat, with a lower deck for its scouts, it can be used for travel thanks to its six legs.
- Aeroplane: a plane designed for air combat, used to attempt to take down the Leviathan.
- Leviathan: the name of a large, fabricated airwhale that Deryn and Alek travel on. It is a living ecosystem, using the whale cilia for flight, bacteria to make hydrogen, bees to make honey, and strafing hawks and fléchette bats for battle (see below).
- Minotaur: the name of an airship similar to the Leviathan where Deryn's brother Jaspert serves.
- Huxley: giant jellyfish-like creatures fabricated from the life threads of the medusa jellyfish. These creatures breathe hydrogen and are used to scout overhead.
- Message lizards: fabricated lizards used aboard the Leviathan and other Darwinist creations and buildings. They only repeat what they hear.
- Strafing hawks: the Leviathan's main defence. When armed with acidic spider webs on their wings, they are capable of slicing through metal.
- Fléchette bats: bats fabricated with moth and mosquito threads. These bats are able to ingest and release metal spikes in "the usual manner".
- Hydrogen sniffers: dog-like creatures bred to sniff for hydrogen leaks on an airship.
- Kraken: a sea creature designed for ocean battles.
Leviathan received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, and was compared to works by Hayao Miyazaki, Kenneth Oppel and Naomi Novik, but promised that the novel could "stand—or fly—on its own." It also gained a starred review from School Library Journal, who said it was "Full of nonstop action" and that "This steampunk adventure is sure to become a classic." The ALSC selected it as a 2010 Notable Children's Book and the YALSA listed it on their 2010 Best Books for Young Adults. In addition, Leviathan won the 2009 Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel.
The novel is an alternate history story of events around World War I. The author closes the book with an explanation of what events were real and which were fictional.
- In reality, the Archduke and the princess were shot while riding in a coach during the day. In the novel, they survive this attempt, only to be poisoned that night.
- It was once speculated that the Austrian and/or German government arranged for the death of the Archduke either as an excuse for war, or for their distaste for his politics. This theory was discredited much later in the 20th century.
- Archduke Franz Ferdinand actually had three children, not one, and none of them were named Aleksandar. However, like Alek, these children did not inherit their father’s land or title because of the nature of their mother’s heritage.
- The Archduke really did petition the Pope to have the conditions of his morganatic marriage adjusted, but in reality he was unsuccessful.
- In the novel, Charles Darwin not only made discoveries into evolution and biology, but also DNA and genetics and how to manipulate them, which is what allowed the creation of the fabricated creatures used by the British. Exactly how fabricated creatures are made is never explained. In reality, DNA was not discovered until the 1950s.
- Dr. Nora Barlow was a real person, the granddaughter of Charles Darwin. However she was not a zoologist, nor a diplomat.
- Dr. Barlow’s pet, Tazza, a thylacine, is a real animal and would have been alive at the time of the story. They were hunted to extinction by humans, and the last known thylacine died in 1936.
- The first armored fighting vehicle did not enter battle until 1916, and used treads like farm tractors instead of legs, a fact that Alek openly mocks in the novel as "ridiculous".
- The fabricated animals called "Huxleys" are named after Thomas Henry Huxley, a renowned biologist known as Darwin's Bulldog for his advocacy of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
- ISBN 9781416971771 "Goliath" by Scott Westerfeld
- "Finalists and Winners". Aurealis Awards. 24 January 2010. Archived from the original on 10 August 2011. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
- "Leviathan". Kirkus Reviews. 6 October 2009. Archived from the original on 10 August 2011. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
- "Laviathan". Amazon. Archived from the original on 10 August 2011. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
- "ALSC announces 2010 Notable Children's Books". ALSC. 8 March 2010. Archived from the original on 10 August 2011. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
- "2010 Best Books for Young Adults". YALSA. 2010. Archived from the original on 10 August 2011. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
- "Finalists and Winners". Aurealis Awards. 24 January 2010. Archived from the original on 10 August 2011. Retrieved 10 August 2011.