I recently realized that I have been reading quite a few books that fall into a genre that I never knew existed. I have since crawled partially out of the cardboard box I moved into, after having a kid and circling middle age, to find out that genre is Steampunk. Who knew? Apparently everyone.
“Leviathan” is an alternate history of World War I where the world (or at least Europe and Russia) are divided into three groups: Darwinist, Clanker and Neutral. Darwin has discovered “life threads” (DNA) which enable the British to create “beasties” (living war machines) that subsist organically. The Clankers of Germany and Austria-Hungary have taken the mechanical route and have developed enormous armoured walking machines. The Neutral is, of course, Switzerland.
The story follows the adventures of two teenagers immediately after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Serbia. Alek, the fictional son of the Archduke, is whisked into exile in the Swiss Alps by his fencing master and the master mechanic. Deryn, a girl masquerading as a boy (Dylan) in order to join the British military, begins serving as a recruit aboard the British warship the Leviathan just before war is declared.
The Leviathan is a living dirigible made from the “life threads” of a whale and inflated by hydrogen produced from organisms inside the “beastie” when they fart. Yep, you read that right. The Darwinists have also genetically engineered bats that poop flechettes, spider/dog hybrids that scour the surface of the Leviathan to sniff out hydrogen leaks, and message lizards that can parrot messages in the voice of the sender.
Alek and Deryn meet up when the Leviathan is shot down near Alek’s secluded hide out in the Alps and adventure ensues. The second book of this series, “Behemoth”, is out in hardback now so this book is clearly set up all cliff hangery, but it was a fun read. The idea of living and breathing machines that rely on real food supplies and symbiotic relationships to function was interesting. The “Monkey Luddites” in Britain and the Clankers who think all of the genetic tinkering is an abomination fleshed the story out a bit more and made for a more thoughtful read than you might get in some young adult fiction. I recommend it.
Westerfeld has written quite a bit of young adult science fiction. I haven’t read any of his other books yet, but you all who have could let me know if they are worth it. I have some more steampunky books/reviews waiting in the wings, but any recommendations from you folks in the know would be appreciated.