As a big fan of Scott Westerfeld‘s Uglies series (think post-apocalyptic world controlled by plastic surgery of both body and mind) I was eager to begin this new venture into the wonderfully bizarre imagination of an exciting and relevant YA author.
Typically the reader is thrown straight into the scenario and left to piece together information as quickly as they can – quickly, because the story progresses at a romp. It’s best not to ask too many questions to begin with but accept you are in safe hands and let the adventure whisk you along.
Our two daring heroes are Alek and Deryn. Alek is the runaway orphaned heir to Austro-Hungary while Deryn is a newly qualified midshipman for the British Empire – only she happens to be a boy in disguise. This being Westerfeld world, we are not in the First World War as you might suppose but a war between Darwinists (those countries which use fabricated animals instead of machines or vehicles) and Clankers (countries relying on increasingly elaborate machines). Alek travels in a Walker, a huge two legged machine he struggles to master, while Deryn thrills to the experience of working on the Leviathan, a massive whale-like creature with its own colonies of bats, dogs and bees and jelly-fish like creatures, all designed to work together to keep the British Empire in the skies.
Although the vision of the world is fascinating, the first half of the book consists of the two characters moving slowly towards each other, and it isn’t until Alek and Deryn finally meet that the book lights up with Westerfeld’s characteristic electricity. Their burgeoning friendships and the secrets they hide are the real heart of the book. However, there are enough thrills and spills to excite any reader whether they are willing romance to happen or not. The fabricated creatures are a delight, while Alek’s attempts to come to terms with his new role in the war and Deryn’s struggles to hide her true nature are gripping. The book finishes at a gallop with the plot all ready to bound straight into the sequel, Behemoth, which has just come out in hardback.
Notes for writers
I have decided to follow Debby Holt’s tip of taking note of writing tips from each book I read, so these are the pointers I’ve picked up from Leviathan.
- Never a dull moment – if there is one, delete it!
- Each character has an internal conflict as well as an external one.
- Use unique ways of talking. Deryn has her own swear words: “Barking spiders!”
- Stay with your main characters.
- Create a constant state of suspense.
- Devise a world with rules, but make it something you can have fun with.