Friday, January 11, 2013

Storytime 2013: "Leviathan" by Scott Westerfeld

This year I am not setting a goal number of books to read. 50, 60, maybe I will read that many, but there are some really long books on my "to read" list that might slow me down on a goal like that. So I'm setting some themes for myself this year. I'm sure that not all of the books that I read will fit into these themes, but it gives me an area of focus, and I feel like I haven't really studied a specific area of literature in a while. One of my themes is books by and about women. I am a lady writer, but I read very few books written by ladies. I also want to honor my historical sisters by learning their stories. 2012 was the 100th anniversary of the women's right to vote in Oregon. A friend once called me "a stubborn woman," and I am very thankful to the stubborn women who came before me. Another theme that I'm setting for myself this year is folktales and fairy tales, or modern stories based on folktales. Specifically, I want to read stories set in cold places like Scandinavia, Iceland, Russia, etc. Don't ask why, it's just the mood I'm in at the moment. If you have any suggestions for books that fit into either of these categories, please leave them in the comments! Happy New Year and happy reading!

"Leviathan" by Scott Westerfeld

The first book that I finished in 2013 is an alternate version of WWI, where the German and Austria-Hungarian forces fight with mechanical animals and the British forces fight with genetically engineered animal machines, clankers and beasties, respectively. Alek, the (fictional) son of Archduke Ferdinand is forced into hiding after his parents' assassination. Deryn, a young Scottish girl disguises herself as a boy to join the Royal Air Service. They meet in Switzerland, where Deryn's airship, the Leviathan, crash lands near Alek's secret hideaway. They find that they have a lot in common despite cultural and military differences and decide to trust each other.

The semi-steampunk flavor of the book is all right, but what I find really imaginative are Westerfeld's "beastie" creations. The lizards on the Leviathan can scramble around with their sticky gecko feet, but they serve a purpose as messengers, speaking in the voices of the humans that "record" the message. The flechette bats are fed metal spikes that they then "drop" on the enemy in the natural fashion. The Leviathan is a huge whale like creature that fills itself up with hydrogen and floats like a zeppelin. The controversy of manipulating nature in this way is not glossed over. Alek and Deryn each openly criticize and secretly admire the innovations of the other's culture.

The writing style is simple enough for middle school readers who are just learning about world history. In the afterward, Westerfeld points out the historical facts and fictions in his book, which will probably stir up some interest in the time period. There is an inkling of romance between the young main characters, which I'm not so keen on, but we'll see how he continues that plotline. Leviathan is the first in a series of three books. B-

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