Scott Westerfeld's Behemoth: return to the steampunk WWI of Leviathan

By Cory Doctorow

Scott Westerfeld's steampunk young adult series, begun with last year's Leviathan, continues now in the newly released Behemoth, a worthy sequel to one of the most fun, subversive and exciting kids' series around.

In Leviathan, we were introduced to a world on the brink of World War One, with an alternate history twist: the allied powers are all "Darwinists," living in societies where Charles Darwin's theories have given birth to a menagerie of engineered lifeforms, from blimp-sized flying war whales to the tiny flechette bats who eat sharp, plane-wrecking steel missiles and crap them on command at enemy airscraft; on the other side are the "Clankers," who use German precision engineering to create a range of terrifying steam-driven mecha and war-machines.

Now, in Behemoth, the two powers fight for primacy in the strategically vital Istanbul, deploying spies, bioweapons, towering iron golems, chemical bombs (parcels of cayenne pepper, flung with deadly accuracy into the mechas' cockpits), and all manner of materiel.

And at the center of the fight remain Alek, the secret heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, and Deryn, a young girl posing as a boy and working as a midshipman on a great, living British flying ship. Torn apart and scattered to their fortunes in the streets of Istanbul, they ally themselves with anarchist, inter-ethnic revolutionaries who have co-opted the city's ghetto-guarding mecha and plan to depose the sultan, who has become a puppet of the occupying clanker forces. Never sure of whom to trust -- never even really sure of one another -- Alek and Deryn find frustrated romance, heroism, and challenges that tax their ingenuity and resilience to the brink in this page-turning potboiler.

As with other Westerfeld books -- the Uglies series, So Yesterday, Peeps, etc -- Behemoth can be read as a straight-ahead adventure yarn, or it can serve as a jumping-off point for a series of fruitful discussions and investigations into evolutionary theory, history, poleconomy, comparative religion, military tactics, gender, and bioethics. And of course, the fact that it's marketed as "young adult" fiction doesn't make it any less enjoyable for us grown-ups. Highly recommended (natch!).

Behemoth

Published 6:04 am Thu, Oct 7, 2010

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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.

10 Responses to “Scott Westerfeld's Behemoth: return to the steampunk WWI of Leviathan

  1. tomservojr says:

    I really enjoyed Leviathan, although plot-wise, it felt more like the first two-thirds of a really good book. I’m curious to see how the follow-up holds together. Also, the cover is hideous.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Would love to hear this as a full-on audio drama

  3. Lobster says:

    The setting sounds fascinating and I can’t say for sure because I haven’t read it, but I don’t think it would really grip me like it would were it not YA. I don’t think that YA books are written for idiots, but I do think they’re written for kids with young protagonists doing amazing things. I’m not terribly fond of kids and have witnessed – repeatedly and to excess – what happens when they are called upon to do useful things, never mind amazing things.

    Maybe it says something about me that I’m willing to suspend my disbelief enough for a living whale-airship, but not enough for a kid to be a hero.

    • zio_donnie says:

      I have witnessed – repeatedly and to excess – what happens when full grown adults are called upon to do useful things, never mind amazing things. At least kids have an excuse for f***kn things up. Your point is?

  4. Anonymous says:

    i enjoyed the first book, was a YA book but enjoyable nontheless (i plan on picking this one up, terrible cover or no)

    Mr Mediocre – so bats that spit iron spikes are bad, but giant gas whales that float like blimps are ok? i think your picking on that one part of the story too much, if you have to believe in everything you read, your reading list is probaly pretty small and boring

  5. Anonymous says:

    Im 10, turning 11. i wanna read this book so bad, but i dont know where to get it. i get insomnia, thinking about this book. im one of those people who turn into the books character. i hear that this book is excellent and dramatizing, but i havent read it myself.

  6. mr_mediocre says:

    Ah, the flechette bats. This is where my suspension of disbelief came to a full stop. Westerfeld doesn’t merely have them cause problems for aircraft (which would be almost excusable, since flying a WWI-era biplane through a cloud of razors would certainly do a lot of damage), no, he has them reduce a sailing ship to ruins.

    Leviathan was fun, but alas, the bats were only the worst example of Things You Can’t Think About Too Much Or It Falls Apart.

  7. tregeagle says:

    My 8yr old loved the first book. He was quite happy to believe in flying fart filled whales and razor blade spitting bats. It’s a ridiculous and fun story, for kids. Which would explain why the protagonists are kids, funnily enough most happy self confident kids have no problems believing they can be the hero.

    I will definitely order this for him.

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