Scott Westerfeld “Leviathan trilogy”

On the 28th of June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumtive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were poisoned in Sarajevo. This assassination led to the beginning of the First World War with Clankers – Austria-Hungary, Germany and the Ottoman Empire – going against the Darwinist alliance – Russia, United Kingdom, Japan, France and later USA.

The son of Austrian archduke, Aleksander had to flee to Switzerland to prevent being killed by the terrorists who were allegedly hired not by the Bosnian government, but by Austria so that the long-awaited war could begin…

Anyone who is familiar with the world history and specifically World War I will be confused by the aforementioned description. Who are Clankers and do Darwinists have any connection to Charles Darwin? Scott Westerfeld’s novels are written as an alternative history and depict the Europe of his imagination in the beginning of the twentieth century. Two powers, two diametrically different lifestyles, face off in one of the most infamous conflicts in the world history. On one side there are the Clankers, who believe in the power of the machine. They use motor engines and create machines for all possible human needs. Their military equipment is mainly comprised of gigantic walker robots. On the other side are the Darwinists, who support nature and see “no point in creating a new system when you could borrow one already fine-tuned by evolution”. They “fabricate” beasts, changing the already existing animals to fit their purposes.

The two main characters of the trilogy also come from the opposite ends of the spectrum. His Serene Highness Prince Aleksander of Hohenberg travels incognito with his entourage to escape the Austrian walkers. Or as incognito as he manages, since a born and bred prince cannot become a commoner overnight. By fate he finds himself on the board of a British air…hmm, let’s refer to him as an air beast, “Leviathan” that was fabricated from a sperm whale with dozens of other beasties ‘on board’. Also on board is midshipman Dylan Sharp, who in reality is Deryn, a girl whose love for aeronautics makes her forgo the generally accepted conventions of the time.

Throughout the trilogy the Leviathan takes our heroes above and beyond Switzerland, the Mediterranean sea, Constantinople, Siberia, Mexico and New York. Each of the locations is given in vivid and detailed descriptions of their landscapes and cultures during the beginning of the twentieth century, which significantly differ from the modern ones, while some aspects are left very recognizable. Westerfeld interweaves fantasy and reality in a very original way, bringing out real facts that are not generally known, but also giving cameo appearance opportunities to such historic ‘celebrities’ like Winston Churchill, Charles Darwin, Nikola Tesla, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and other researchers and inventors whose creations we use today.

Despite the books being mostly for light reading, there are also deep philosophical topics hidden between the lines. One of them concerns personal identity crises. Both Alek and Deryn are in their teens, only starting out, not entirely sure what their place in life is. But the circumstances make them become somebody else. Their struggle to maintain their assumed identities is beautifully written. The narration alternates between the two, so their personality traits are brought out with even more clarity.

The trilogy is written for young adults, but can be read by anyone who likes fiction in the steampunk genre with action-packed military operations sequences, quirky secondary characters, revolutions, political intrigue and romance that borders on the impossible. And that is not all. In addition to the thrilling adventure, the books have a rare feature – stylish black and white illustrations of all characters, beasts and machines.

  1. Leviathan. New York : Simon Pulse, 2010 Check from the e-catalogue ESTER
  2. Behemoth. New York : Simon Pulse, 2011Check from the e-catalogue ESTER
  3. Goliath. New York : Simon Pulse, 2012 Check from the e-catalogue ESTER

Olga Ivaškevitš
Väike-Õismäe branch library

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