Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan: kick-ass young adult steampunk series starts with a bang, a hiss and a clank

Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan is the first volume in one of the most exciting new young adult series to come along since Uglies (or, for that matter, The Borribles). Leviathan is set in an alternate steampunk past, in which the powers of the world are divided into "Clankers" who favour huge, steam-powered walking war-machines; and "Darwinists," whose hybrid "beasties" can stand in for airships, steam-trains, war-ships, and subs (they even have a giant squid/octopus hybrid called the kraken that can seize whole warships and drag them to their watery graves).

Set on the eve of WWI, the story's two main characters are Aleks, the incognito orphan of the freshly assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand (fleeing his murderous uncle Emperor Franz Josef from Austria to the safe haven of Switzerland in a liberated battle-walker); and Deryn, a Scots girl who has dressed in boys' clothes to muster into Britain's Darwinist air-corps and finds herself a midshipsman on the Leviathan, a floating ecosystem a quarter-mile long, made up of whales, bats, bees, six-legged hydrogen-sniffing dogs, and all manner of beasties that make her the meanest thing in the sky.

Filled with gripping air and land-battles, political intrigue and danger, science and madness, Leviathan is part Island of Dr Moreau, part Patrick O'Brien. And to top it all off, the volume is lavishly illustrated with fabulous ink-drawings of the best scenes from the book, executed in high Victorian style by Keith Thompson. Thompson also produced contrafactual propaganda maps of alternate Europe for end-papers.


Westerfeld writes gripping, relentless coming-of-age novels that are equally enjoyable by boys and girls, adults and kids, and Leviathan is no exception. I'm looking forward to volume two -- and many more to come.

Leviathan is also available as an unabridged 8-hour audiobook on DRM-free CDs for a very reasonable $20. The reading is by Alan Cummings, who absolutely nails it, and the production -- bed music, editing -- is just superb, bringing the whole swashbuckling tale to life.

Leviathan

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