Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld (TMWTR)

About the Book: 

Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

Leviathan is a book that has garnished a lot of attention from steampunk fans, and has also introduced plenty of readers to steampunk. It has a ton of fans and, because of all the hype; I was expecting to join those ranks. Unfortunately, while Leviathan was an enjoyable read it was what I consider a popcorn book. It’s an interesting tale, fun events, likeable characters but there really isn't anything else here.

And, hey, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes I just crave popcorn. Only I didn't this time.

It’s the deftly drawn and believable world that is the saving grace of Leviathan. Westerfeld seamlessly merged aspects of real geography, history and culture with new steampunk ideas to create a world that was both relatable and understandable but tantalizingly unique. Even the steampunk aspects of this book take on a different flare. There aren’t any real steam powered air ships; instead there are Darwinist beasties, which are an interesting amalgamation of animals to serve a unique purpose. On the other side of the line are large walking machines complete with weapons.

Really, the world he created is nothing short of breathtaking.

Added to this are some amazing pictures that really help illuminate the story and add some visuals to concepts that might be harder for younger readers to understand and picture. The maps, cover and inside pictures really should be noted. They are incredibly done and are a great addition to the work as a whole. This book has, perhaps, my favorite map I've seen in a book. That really leads back to the incredible world building. Without such a vibrant, unique and incredibly created world these images wouldn't exist - so one gives credence to the other. 

While this book is marketed as Young Adult, I often felt that it was written for a younger audience. The two main perspectives, a boy and girl aged fifteen and sixteen are simply unbelievable. If they had been written as younger characters, perhaps twelve and thirteen I would have believed their ages.  As it was, their actions and dialogue just didn’t back up the age they were presented at. However, they are very likeable characters and easy to care about, so all is not lost. Added to this were some really technical details that could, at times, seem at odds with the incredibly young characters and writing style. These details of machinery and the such were interesting, but I doubt young readers would fully understand them and, at times, they did seem to bog down the plot. 

Leviathan, on the whole, is incredibly predictable in a feel-good, popcorn sort of way. The events are compelling, but it’s obvious where it will all end up. Westerfeld’s writing keeps it attention-grabbing and if the characters and dialogue is a bit too immature to be completely YA (in my opinion), his world really is the saving grace that keeps the book interesting and worth reading.

I know it sounds like I hated this book, and I really didn’t. The journey is fun, the events that take place are exciting and the world is amazing. I enjoyed this book for what it was – a fun diversion. Leviathan will easily appeal to younger readers and perhaps preteens who are on the cusp of full blown YA reads will find more in it to enjoy than I did.

However, if I look at all other aspects of the book, aside from the world, there isn’t much here. The adventure is predictable. The characters lack believability and depth. The dialogue can be, at times, stilted and uncomfortable. While I won’t continue on with the series, I can see how many people would absolutely love this book. It really is an enjoyable read for the proper audience and I already have encouraged younger (and less skeptical) readers to pick up this book.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about myself, it is that I generally don’t do well with books written for a young audience. Even most YA reads are hard for me to enjoy fully and this book seemed more preteen than teen in my mind, which was a huge struggle for me. While I gave it a shot, I’m not exactly surprised with my results. Hey, I don’t like Harry Potter, either and that series is a run-away hit – so don’t take this review as gospel truth.

3/5 stars

6 comments:

  1. I agree with most of what you say, though I disagree with the conclusion - you get the expected package (YA, exuberant, fun) after all and that's what the book advertises, nothing more, so for me that's an A.

    I also feel that a lot of the fun in this book for older audiences is from the world building and its relative originality. This shows in the second volume where lacking the 'new" factor, the book is considerably less compelling.

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  2. I just didn't enjoy it in general but I'm not really that surprised. I gave it 3/5 because I think it's a solid read for the people who are into that kind of thing. However, for me, personally it just didn't work out. I think it's because I generally really struggle to get into YA reads.

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  3. Sarah, I am SO pleased that someone other than me had this experience with LEVIATHAN. All the points you make in your review are my feelings to a T. It really is a fun little story, but in the end there's not much else there. It just kind of predictably sails along and ends up where you know it will end up. The characters DO read as younger than they are....Aleks especially.

    Great review!!

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  4. I'm sooooo behind on my Google Reader it isn't funny anymore. Hopefully I'll catch up this weekend. In the meantime you've an award here: http://a-fantastical-librarian.blogspot.com/2010/11/life-is-good-blog-award.html

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  5. I own a copy of Leviathan - unread. I like the ingredients and I'm distrustful when I read about hype.
    Your review is one of these which me normally force to read the reviewed book immediately. Just to answer question do I share your opinion or not.
    But this time I resist because I there are other books waiting on my TBR pile ....

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  6. Michael, I'll be interested to see what you think about the book when you get to it.

    Scott, I felt like I was the only one who felt like this when I wrote the review. I'm glad I'm not. It's not a bad book, it just isn't my type of book and I'm not sure it is wholly deserving of the hype it got - though I rarely read YA so maybe it is a groundbreaking YA read....

    Mieneke - Thanks for the award. So cool :)

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