Cover of Behemoth (Leviathan) Today I'm switching gears from parallel worlds to another of my favorites: alternate history.
Scott Westerfield's Behemoth is the latest installment of his Leviathan series. My son gobbled them both up over the holidays, and last week I did too.
Here's the blurb from Amazon:
The behemoth is the fiercest creature in the British navy. It can swallow enemy battleships with one bite. The Darwinists will need it, now that they are at war with the Clanker powers.
Deryn is a girl posing as a boy in the British Air Service, and Alek is the heir to an empire posing as a commoner. Finally together aboard the airship Leviathan, they hope to bring the war to a halt. But when disaster strikes the Leviathan's peacekeeping mission, they find themselves alone and hunted in enemy territory.
Alek and Deryn will need great skill, new allies, and brave hearts to face what's ahead.
The Leviathan series is set in a steampunk version of World War II Europe and Westerfield came up with a clever way to trick kids into some more history with his cast. Darwinists genetically engineer fantastical animals, but Clankers opt for fantastical robotic creations. Resistance to Darwin's ideas and the feminist theme (girl posing as a boy, etc.) are a great introduction to issues of the period that are so relevant, even today.
I really liked Leviathan, but I was kind of upset the map in the book had Constantinople written over Istanbul, even if it was an aside. I gave Westerfield the benefit of the doubt and he surpassed my expectations in every way. Much of Behemoth is set in Istanbul, not Constantinople, and he explains the reasoning behind the name confusion. He also did his homework on the various ethnic groups living in the city at that time... Levantines, Armenians and Jews. A robotic djinn and a Kurdish snake goddess are thrown in for good measure. (LOVE that! Separate post about her later. ;)) Cultural references are so effortlessly made that I can't wait for the next installment, which is probably going to be set in Japan.
I should also mention the amazing drawings. Hugo Cabret is my all time favorite, but this series really grabs my attention. The pages of the book are stark white, providing contrast to the intricate charcoal drawings by Keith Thompson.