The sub-genre of science fiction known as Steampunk seems like such a rich environment to write in, it hardly needs anything more to make it even better. That hasn't stopped Scott Westerfeld from doing just that, however. Westerfeld's new teen novel Leviathan takes the brass, gears, and steam and adds on an assortment of biological weapons to create an world as exciting as it is bizarre.
Leviathan sets up an alternate history that, at first glance, seems very much like our own. On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife are assassinated, setting off a chain of events that eventually leads to the First World War. So far, pretty similar- but in Leviathan's universe, the warring factions are split between the mechanized Clankers and the flesh-and-blood Darwinists. Naturally, the names are a giveaway to the types of technology each side prefers. The Clankers build hulking steam-powered war machines, which vary in size from a small car(bristling with machine guns) to a walking aircraft carrier. On the other side, the Darwinists prefer to use genetic engineering to create their biological weapons such as the title creature, a blimp-sized mixture of whale, jellyfish, lizards, and all sorts of other creatures into a living flying fortress. Westerfeld is no stranger to biological tinkering, having examined similar themes with his Uglies series, and his descriptions of the Darwinist creations are particularly effective (and, it must be said, somewhat revolting). The dual storyline splits between Alek, a fictional son of the Archduke's who escapes from Austria in the nick of time; and Deryn, a British girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to join the Darwinist air force. When the two sides meet in the middle of the Swiss Alps, Westerfeld expertly merges the two storylines and manages to keep the story moving forward at an explosive pace. The first in a four-part series, Leviathan easily leaves readers wanting more and will appeal to all teen sci-fi fans.