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

Westerfeld's LEVIATHAN

By Cory Doctorow

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

Published 5:46 am Tue, Oct 6, 2009

, , , ,

About the Author

I write books. My latest are: a YA graphic novel called In Real Life (with Jen Wang); a nonfiction book about the arts and the Internet called Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age (with introductions by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer) and a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.

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

  1. rossb says:

    Fonts are important.

    What have you done to poor boing boing? I’ve been reading this blog for a couple of years, and I was shocked when I visited it this morning.

    You might as well use comic sans.

  2. davidrice says:

    Oh no! What happened to the layout – and MASTHEAD?!! Hate to be critical of a blog I love but this is almost excruciating to look at.

  3. Corey Redekop says:

    Might I also suggest Arthur Slade’s recent YA steampunk novel THe Hunchback Assignments. A lot of fun.

  4. manu says:

    Is Spain sleeping, in that map ?

  5. Phoenicks says:

    Reading it as we speak ^_^ So far so good. I’m hardly even aware I’m almost 30 and reading a YA book lol.

    Also I want 90% of the stuff mentioned in the book lol

  6. Indigo says:

    Just to be a nerd, I feel I have to point out that the image of the map that accompanies this article is NOT the one created for the book, but is rather one of the actual period maps used as inspiration for the map in Leviathan, according to the blog at http://scottwesterfeld.com/blog/?p=1597 You can see the actual map drawn by Keith Thompson there, and it’s very nice!

    As you were…

  7. earbox says:

    Cumming, not Cummings.

    Also, I’d like to join the chorus of disapproval for the redesign. Ick.

  8. efergus3 says:

    Double ick with moldy cottage cheese on top. Hard to navigate and I keep getting error messages when I try to email a Posting. Someone’s been drying their hair in the microwave again.

  9. ya_bewb says:

    Long time lurker, first time commenter. Please undo the redesign! It takes away the endearing old logo and replaces it with 1980’s video game graphics. It took me a while to figure out that the header was not an ad. Maybe I’m slow? I agree the new ginormous font has to go, too!

  10. cinemajay says:

    @Manu, I believe the word you’re looking for is “siesta”.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I really enjoyed the book & felt that the titular leviathan stands out very well as a character in it’s own right, but the ending annoyed me. Not because it was badly written, the writing is superb, but because it leaves a big clunking cliffhanger for the next book.

    It’s rather annoying to find out that the expected reveal at the end, that i hoped would open up speculation as to how the adventure continues, is actually a big, “who knows…. tune in next time to find out”

    Now i’ve got to wait 2 years or so for the next book. Lame. If you’re writing a trilogy, please try to make at least the FIRST book relatively self contained.

    *sigh*

    Anyway I wholly reccommend the book, just be aware that if you find it as enjoyable as i did, the author’s going to leave you hanging for the next year or so.

  12. Anonymous says:

    This book is very well writen. This book is so good it will have you reading it all day .. even during class lol I know thats what i did. If i was to give this book a rating from one to 10 (10 being the best) my rating would be an (8 1/2). This book has me dieing waiting for the next book to come out.

    P.S. If anyone could possibly post the date when the next book will come out that would be great :) thank you.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I enjoyed Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan and the sequel, Behemoth. I also highly recommend Modern Marvels – Viktoriana by Wayne Reinagel.