Scott Westerfeld is the author of the Leviathan series, the first book of which was the winner of the 2010 Locus Award for Best Young Adult Fiction. His other novels include the New York Times bestseller Afterworlds, the worldwide bestsellingUglies series, The Last Days, Peeps, So Yesterday, and the Midnighters trilogy. Visit him at ScottWesterfeld.com or follow him on Twitter at @ScottWesterfeld.
Keith Thompson’s work has appeared in books, magazines, TV, video games, and films. See his work at KeithThompsonArt.com.
The Austrian horses glinted in the moonlight, their riders standing tall in the saddle, swords raised. Behind them two ranks of diesel-powered walking machines stood ready to fire, cannon aimed over the heads of the cavalry. A zeppelin scouted no-man’s-land at the center of the battlefield, its metal skin sparkling.
The French and British infantry crouched behind their fortifications—a letter opener, an ink jar, and a line of fountain pens—knowing they stood no chance against the might of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But a row of Darwinist monsters loomed behind them, ready to devour any who dared retreat.
The attack had almost begun when Prince Aleksandar thought he heard someone outside his door… .
He took a guilty step toward his bed—then froze in place, listening hard. Trees stirred in a soft breeze outside, but otherwise the night was silent. Mother and Father were in Sarajevo, after all. The servants wouldn’t dare disturb his sleep.
Alek turned back to his desk and began to move the cavalry forward, grinning as the battle neared its climax. The Austrian walkers had completed their bombardment, and it was time for the tin horses to finish off the woefully outnumbered French. It had taken all night to set up the attack, using an imperial tactics manual borrowed from Father’s study.
It seemed only fair that Alek have some fun while his parents were off watching military maneuvers. He’d begged to be taken along, to see the mustered ranks of soldiers striding past in real life, to feel the rumble of massed fighting machines through the soles of his boots.
It was Mother, of course, who had forbidden it—his studies were more important than “parades,” as she called them. She didn’t understand that military exercises had more to teach him than musty old tutors and their books. One day soon Alek might be piloting one of those machines.
War was coming, after all. Everyone said so.
The last tin cavalry unit had just crashed into the French lines when the soft sound came from the hallway again: jingling, like a ring of keys.
Alek turned, peering at the gap beneath his bed chamber’s double doors. Shadows shifted along the sliver of moonlight, and he heard the hiss of whispers.
Someone was right outside.
Silent in bare feet, he swiftly crossed the cold marble floor, sliding into bed just as the door creaked open. Alek narrowed his eyes to a slit, wondering which of the servants was checking on him.
Moonlight spilled into the room, making the tin soldiers on his desk glitter. Someone slipped inside, graceful and dead silent. The figure paused, staring at Alek for a moment, then crept toward his dresser. Alek heard the wooden rasp of a drawer sliding open.
His heart raced. None of the servants would dare steal from him!
But what if the intruder were something worse than a thief? His father’s warnings echoed in his ears… .
You have had enemies from the day you were born.
A bell cord hung next to his bed, but his parents’ rooms were empty. With Father and his bodyguard in Sarajevo, the closest sentries were quartered at the other end of the trophy hall, fifty meters away.
Alek slid one hand under his pillow, until his fingers touched the cold steel of his hunting knife. He lay there holding his breath, grasping the handle tightly, repeating to himself his father’s other watchword.
Surprise is more valuable than strength.
Another figure came through the door then, boots clomping, a piloting jacket’s metal clips jingling like keys on a ring. The figure tromped straight toward his bed.
“Young master! Wake up!”
Alek let go of the knife, expelling a sigh of relief. It was just old Otto Klopp, his master of mechaniks.
The first figure began rifling through the dresser, pulling at clothes.
“The young prince has been awake all along,” Wildcount Volger’s low voice said. “A bit of advice, Your Highness? When pretending to be asleep, it is advisable not to hold one’s breath.”
Alek sat up and scowled. His fencing master had an annoying knack for seeing through deception.
“What’s the meaning of this?”
“You’re to come with us, young master,” Otto mumbled, studying the marble floor. “The archduke’s orders.”
“My father? He’s back already?”
“He left instructions,” Count Volger said with the same infuriating tone he used during fencing lessons. He tossed a pair of Alek’s trousers and a piloting jacket onto the bed.
Alek stared at them, half outraged and half confused.
“Like young Mozart,” Otto said softly. “In the arch-duke’s stories.”
Alek frowned, remembering Father’s favorite tales about the great composer’s upbringing. Supposedly Mozart’s tutors would wake him in the middle of the night, when his mind was raw and defenseless, and thrust musical lessons upon him. It all sounded rather disrespectful to Alek.
He reached for the trousers. “You’re going to make me compose a fugue?”
“An amusing thought,” Count Volger said. “But please make haste.”
“We have a walker waiting behind the stables, young master.” Otto’s worried face made an attempt at a smile. “You’re to take the helm.”
“A walker?” Alek’s eyes widened. Piloting was one part of his studies he’d gladly get out of bed for. He slipped quickly into the clothes.
“Yes, your first night lesson!” Otto said, handing Alek his boots.
Alek pulled them on and stood, then fetched his favorite pilot’s gloves from the dresser, his footsteps echoing on the marble floor.
“Quietly now.” Count Volger stood by the chamber doors. He cracked them and peered out into the hall.
“We’re to sneak out, Your Highness!” Otto whispered. “Good fun, this lesson! Just like young Mozart!”
The three of them crept down the trophy hall, Master Klopp still clomping, Volger gliding along in silence. Paintings of Alek’s ancestors, the family who had ruled Austria for six hundred years, lined the hallway, their subjects staring down with unreadable expressions. The antlers of his father’s hunting trophies cast tangled shadows, like a moonlit forest. Every footstep was magnified by the stillness of the castle, and questions echoed in Alek’s mind.
Wasn’t it dangerous, piloting a walker at night? And why was his fencing master coming along? Count Volger preferred swords and horses over soulless mechaniks, and had little tolerance for commoners like old Otto. Master Klopp had been hired for his piloting skills, not his family name.
“Volger …,” Alek began.
“Quiet, boy!” the wildcount spat.
Anger flashed inside Alek, and a curse almost burst from his mouth, even if it ruined their stupid game of sneaking out.
It was always like this. To the servants he might be “the young archduke,” but nobles like Volger never let Alek forget his position. Thanks to his mother’s common blood, he wasn’t fit to inherit royal lands and titles. His father might be heir to an empire of fifty million souls, but Alek was heir to nothing.
Volger himself was only a wildcount—no farmlands to his name, just a bit of forest—but even he could feel superior to the son of a lady-in-waiting.
Alek managed to stay quiet, though, letting his anger cool as they stole through the vast and darkened banquet kitchens. Years of insults had taught him how to bite his tongue, and disrespect was easier to swallow with the prospect of piloting ahead.
One day he would have his revenge. Father had promised. The marriage contract would be changed somehow, and Alek’s blood made royal.
LEVIATHAN is a novel of alternate history. More specifically, it can be classified as steampunk, which depending on what definition you read, is an extension of science fiction and fantasy. Westerfeld decides to reinvent the era of World War I in his latest novel. While he maintains some of the actual events of the war, he creates and alters many.
The story follows the lives of Deryn and Alek. Deryn is a young woman desperate to join the Air Men of the Darwinists Army (British Empire/France). With the help of her brother, she disguises herself as a boy and joins the fight. She has excellent Air Sense, which is a must for the Darwinists, since their main type of weaponry are flying airships made of living animals, with each animal in the ecosystem playing its part. The Leviathan is an airship made up of a countless number of animals - from the smallest microscopic animal to a giant whale that contains everything.
Alek's parents, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, have been assassinated, leaving Alek on the run for his life. The Austro-Hungarian Empire/Germany wants him dead in order to ensure the end of the bloodline to the throne. Alek's people are referred to as the Clankers because of the loud noises that come from their form of weaponry - swords, cannons, aeroplanes, and, most exciting, walkers. Picture a huge tank with legs instead of treads.
Both Deryn and Alek are dedicated to their causes, and when they are thrust into the same fight and forced to work together, both must take a look at the world around them and see things from the other's perspective.
The ending really leaves the reader hanging, and not necessarily in a good way.Read more ›
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Leviathan is a novel of alternate history. Westerfeld reinvents the war to end all wars creating a world of mechanical weaponry vs genetically engineered living animals. The Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Princess Sophie have been assassinated and their son Alex, is forced to run away in a giant, two legged mechanical contraption during the middle of the night. Alex's father never listened when he was told he could not marry for love. An heir to an empire must marry for the good of the country. When Franz Ferdinand married Sophie he was forced to compromise, and accept the fact that any children would never be considered a legitimate heir. Alex grew up in a household, knowing nothing of his fathers would ever be his. His relatives wished he were never born. On the brink of war, Alex must fight for his life. The Austro-Hungarian empire wants to end the blood line to the throne. Alex, although not an heir is a threat. His tutors have become his guardians. Giving up their families, they have vowed to help Alex and abide by Franz Ferdinand wishes.
Along his journey Alex meets Deryn, a young girl posing as a male soldier in the British air service. All her life Deryn wanted to fly. Her father would take her up in an air ballon, she had excellent air sense. After her father dies, Deryn feels forced to be a proper lady. She always loved to fly, her only problem was girls were not allowed into the air service. With the help of her brother, Deryn disguises herself and is accepted into the service. Their worlds collide and an alliance is formed despite being on the opposite sides.
The characters were really great, I really enjoyed this novel. It was my first steampunk novel and I'm very excited to read the next one in the series. Westerfeld created a great original novel. I highly recommend it. The illustrations are amazing, it really helped create the world for me. Keith Thompson did an outstanding job!
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Disclaimer: Reviews will mainly concentrate on novels that I enjoyed, and in writing them I will attempt to be succinct and to avoid all manner of spoilery comments. A grading guide follows my reviews. Also, please note that while I have read widely in the genre, my tastes are quite distinct and thus readers should absorb my wisdom with, at the very least, a few pinches of salt. Cheers.
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Characterization: 7/10 Two of the main characters of this novel are Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and Deryn Sharp, a commoner disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. Aleksander's struggle to do the right thing is easy to relate to, whereas Deryn is a spunky character who is easy like. The use of both a male and female heroine is sure to please teenage readers as there will always be someone for them empathize with. Although neither character is particularly well-developed, they perform their narrative functions well (as do the various secondary characters). I do look forward to seeing how they change and evolve in future novels.
Plotting and Pacing: 8/10 Scott Westerfeld does a great job here. The novel starts off quickly enough and once events are set into motion he doesn't let up. While this kind of writing is almost a necessity for writing YA, I found it refreshing. There was always enough conflict to keep me reading and enough slow moments to help establish character and further explore the setting. My one complaint is with regards to the novel's ending. I am used to massive forest-destroying tomes where a LOT happens in one book, instead of being broken into multiple volumes.Read more ›
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