Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. il Keith Thompson.
Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2009.

Leviathan is an alternate history novel, first of a trilogy, set in the midst of WWI (England, Austria and Switzerland). There is an heir to Franz Ferdinand (whose murder started the war) being chased by the Austrian and German militaries. The Austrians and Germans have mechanical might, but different and larger than what they actually had. England (not in the war yet) uses ecosystems instead of machines, made by Darwin with DNA threads. So far, I think that idea is the best part of the story. Westerfeld plays with the idea quite a bit, and it is fascinating. Leviathan itself is a whale airship with many creatures coexisting. The main British character is a young girl, disguised as a boy to be in the British Air Service. Austrians and Brits meet when Leviathan is on a secret diplomatic mission to the Ottoman Empire.

My initial reaction when reading was disappointment that it is written at a 6th grade level. Being about WWI, I expected it to be YA level. While it would still be interesting to YA readers, I think the reading level should have been YA, partly because WWI is a YA subject. My disappointment also comes from the fact that Westerfeld can write at a higher level, and I don't want to see all of the YA books dumbed down, which will push all of the better readers into adult books out of aggravation.

Not long into the book I did get over my irritation. Westerfeld is an excellent author, and the story is sufficiently unusual to capture anyone's attention. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire may motivate readers to learn more about world history, a subject certainly lacking in my American upbringing as well as others'. I'm looking forward already to the sequel which will take place in the Ottoman Empire.

I mentioned before that the cover art is magnificent. There are also highly detailed illustrations throughout the book. The artwork is lovely, though a voice in my head tells me that illustrations are for young children. Though I don't want to see pictures in all novels, exceptions can be made for good artwork when appropriate.

YouTube has a cool trailer for the book, and TOR.com has an interview with Scott Westerfeld you might not want to miss.

related-World War I, imaginary creatures, genetic engineering, princes, gender roles, science fiction, high interest
RL=6th and up

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