Thursday, September 30, 2010

World War I, mechanical walkers, and VERY mixed-up animals

Steampunk fits in to many different time periods.  Gail Carriger integrates it into Victorian-era London in the Parasol Protectorate series.  Cherie Priest adds it to Civil War America in Boneshaker.  Here, Scott Westerfeld of The Uglies fame has combined steampunk and World War I in his newest teen book Leviathan.

The Clankers have put all of their science resources into machinery.  Steam-driven walkers are their war machines of choice.  They are also much more advanced with other weapons.  

The Darwinists, however, have mastered the art of genetically splicing animals.  The war effort uses some of them in the war, such as The Leviathan, which is a whale-like creature created to float over enemies, rather like a zeppelin.  The entire ship is a closed system, made of several different animals that each have a specific job to keep the airship afloat.

On a side, note, I read this book right around the time I was watching a lot of “Batman: The Brave and The Bold”, and I couldn’t help but think of the superhero B’wana Beast.  But that’s neither here nor there.

Deryn has always wanted to fly.  Unfortunately, she’s a girl, so that doesn’t work so well.  Her uncle had worked with the Darwinists’ airships, and she fell in love.  So, in intrepid girl style of old, she’s dressed herself as a boy and joined the army.

Prince Aleksandar isn’t in this for the fun, however.  Born the son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, he was rescued from the assassination of the rest of his family, and is now on the run with a few old soldiers who were his trainers.

The story follows both of our young adventurers, and as their paths cross, they have to work together to stay alive.

If Westerfield wasn’t such an established Teen author, I’m sure that this book would have been classified as mid-grade.  While a lot of kids in middle school don’t learn much about World War I, a clever 12-year-old should follow along fine, and the type of story it is might be more suited to that age bracket.  For those of us who are still a kid at heart, though, it’s a fun, well thought out story that leaves us eagerly awaiting the inevitable sequels.

Highs:  Lots of action, sympathetic main characters

Lows:  The ideas of a prince on the run and a girl posing as a boy are a little overdone

Verdict:  More of a children’s book than a teen book, but entertaining for anyone who remembers being that age.

Further Reading:  Howl’s Moving Castle, Graceling

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