Leviathan (Westerfeld novel)

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Leviathan westerfeld.jpg
AuthorScott Westerfeld
IllustratorKeith Thompson
Cover artistKeith Thompson
Sammy Yuen, Jr.
CountryUnited States
SeriesLeviathan Trilogy
GenreSteampunk, Biopunk, Alternate history
PublisherSimon Pulse
Publication date
October 6, 2009
Media typePrint (hardback)
Pages434 (USA Version)
Followed byBehemoth 

Leviathan is a 2009 novel written by Scott Westerfeld and illustrated by Keith Thompson. First of a trilogy set in alternative version of World War I, it has Central Powers (known in-universe as "Clankers") using mechanized war machines opposed by Entente Powers (as "Darwinists") who fabricate living creatures genetically. The central protagonists are Aleksandar, son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand; and Deryn, a Scottish girl with dreams of joining the British Air Service with her brother. The sequels are Behemoth and Goliath.[1] The first two chapters of this book were released with Bogus to Bubbly: Insider's Guide to the World of Uglies.

The book was named the Best Young Adult Novel by the Aurealis Award in 2009,[2] Locus in 2010, and Mir Fantastiki in 2011.


It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, diesel-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 pose as a boy ("Dylan Sharp"). To pass the starting exam, she goes aloft with a Huxley (a jellyfish-like creature which uses hydrogen to float) 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 boffin, or scientist, 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 defeats 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 to 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 almost erupts between the two sides, but Deryn's quick thinking in bringing Alek to the front and holding him as a hostage brings everyone together 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 Herkules, a deadly 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 by Winston Churchill despite being paid in full, thus creating tension between 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.

Main characters[edit]

Deryn (Dylan) Sharp: Despite her father having been killed in a ballooning accident, Deryn longs to be in the sky and free, although her mother and aunts try to force to her be a proper lady. Deryn spends the last of her inheritance to travel to London and live with her brother, where she studies to take the midshipman exams to enter the British Air Service like her brother. The most difficult part is acting as a boy since women cannot enter the Service. It is her lucky day when her airman test goes awry and she is scooped up by the Leviathan and finishes her tests up there. She is enlisted as a midshipman. She is able to best many other 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. Luckily, Barlow 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, which she quickly tries to repress.

Prince Aleksandar (Alek): Alek is in serious danger after his parents are killed since he is in line for the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire. 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 several languages, including English, French, Latin, Greek 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 supposed common birth, though in fact he knows that his father has altered his previously morganatic 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 is prepared for new events, such as the death of Alek's father. 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, after whom the Darwinists are named. She is also quite clever in general, figuring out secrets with her observational skills and knows several languages. She is the creator and caretaker of mysterious eggs that will hatch into a "perspicacious" loris of her making and a weapon to bear against the Clankers. The character's name comes from the real world person Nora Barlow.

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 machines with ease.

Hoffman: One of the helpers/storm walker gunners that helps Alek escape. He also helps put the Clanker engines on the Leviathan. He was also a major engineer in the Habsburg Guard before the war.

Hans Bauer: One of the helpers/storm walker gunners who helps Alek escape. He also 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, generally the Central Powers with the name possibly a spoof of it. 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.

Darwinist: The Darwinist countries currently consist of the United Kingdom, 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 helped 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.
  • The United States of 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) and 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 real time history.
  • Portugal, Spain and Italy appear to be Darwinist nations that have yet to join in the war.

Warfare technology used[edit]

Clanker machines[edit]

Clankers made machines mostly large in order to have great effect

  • Cyklops Storm-walker: a two-legged machine designed for combat. Alek and his men use one to escape to Switzerland.
  • Zeppelin: a dirigible designed for air travel, transport and combat. The Germans use several to try and destroy the Leviathan.
  • Dreadnought: 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.

Darwinist creations[edit]

Darwinists created animal-weapons in order to do greater damage, have better agility.

  • 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.
  • "Huxleys": giant jellyfish-like creatures fabricated from the life threads of the medusa jellyfish. These creatures breathe hydrogen and are similar in function to hot-air balloons. Usually these are used to scout overhead. They are named after Thomas Henry Huxley, a renowned biologist known as Darwin's Bulldog for his advocacy of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
  • 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.
  • Behemoth: a sea creature like a Kraken that is bigger and stronger.
  • Elephantine: a large elephant like creature.


Leviathan and its subsequent sequels stand out notably to other young adult novels that are published in recent years for featuring illustrations in-between its pages. The idea of incorporating illustrations into them began back in 2007 when author Westerfeld had discovered illustrations for the Japanese translation of his earlier work Uglies, to which he had shared them on his blog.[3][4] He was met with feedback from English-speaking fans who complained of how their novels were lacking in such features; until one reader pointed out how they are a norm in Japanese novels, particularly light novels. Further research by Westerfeld also found it to be a commonality in old Western novels prior to the invention of the camera. Inspiration also came from adventure novels that were around during the World War I era, which became one basis of research for the series' settings.[4][5]


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."[6] 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."[7] The ALSC selected it as a 2010 Notable Children's Book[8] and the YALSA listed it on their 2010 Best Books for Young Adults.[9] In addition, Leviathan won the 2009 Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel.[10]

Historical liberties[edit]

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 21st 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, the structure of DNA was not discovered until the 1950s.
  • Dr. Nora Barlow was a real person, the granddaughter of Charles Darwin. However she was a geneticist, not a diplomat.
  • Dr. Barlow's pet, Tazza, a thylacine, is a real animal and would have been alive at the time of the story, however the real Nora Barlow never owned one as a pet.
  • The first armored fighting vehicle did not enter battle until 1916, and used treads like farm tractors instead of legs, a concept that Alek dismisses as "preposterous" (likely as a joke).[11]
  • In the Leviathan timeline, World War I lasted only two years and ended with a co-existence treaty, while in our world it lasted four until Allied victory.


  1. ^ ISBN 9781416971771 "Goliath" by Scott Westerfeld
  2. ^ "Finalists and Winners". Aurealis Awards. 24 January 2010. Archived from the original on 10 August 2011. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  3. ^ Westerfeld, Scott (1 March 2007). "Best Week Ever". scottwesterfeld.com. Retrieved 4 April 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Scott Westerfeld: Leviathan". Big Ideas (Interview). Interviewed by Sean Williams. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 22 April 2013. Retrieved 4 April 2017.
  5. ^ Clarke, Abbey (22 August 2014). "GEN CON EXCLUSIVE: Scott Westerfeld Talks About the Illustrations in Leviathan". The MindHut. Barnes & Noble. Retrieved 4 April 2017.
  6. ^ "Leviathan". Kirkus Reviews. 6 October 2009. Archived from the original on 10 August 2011. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  7. ^ "Laviathan". Amazon. Archived from the original on 18 March 2014. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  8. ^ "ALSC announces 2010 Notable Children's Books". ALSC. 8 March 2010. Archived from the original on 10 August 2011. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  9. ^ "2010 Best Books for Young Adults". YALSA. 2010. Archived from the original on 10 August 2011. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  10. ^ "Finalists and Winners". Aurealis Awards. 24 January 2010. Archived from the original on 10 August 2011. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  11. ^ Scott Westerfeld (2010). Leviathan. Simon and Schuster. p. 439. ISBN 978-0-85707-000-5.

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