[Book review] Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.

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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.

Goodreads

Unlike what seems like a large (or at least very vocal) group of readers online, I wasn’t a fan of the Uglies series. It felt like a series with tremendous potential that, while not terrible, just couldn’t live up to the hype. Still, Westerfeld was a competent enough writer that I decided to try the first book in his equally-lauded Leviathan series.

While the concept isn’t perhaps as unique as Uglies’, Leviathan does have several good things going for it.

Westerfeld writes simply and the book feels like it’s meant for really young adults, which means it’s a fast, engaging, easy-to-follow time.

The characters, despite their tropiness (spoilt prince thrown into “commoner” situation where he has to learn to humble himself and get better; brash, “commoner” girl thrown headfirst into trouble), are quite multi-faceted; they do make mistakes and have flaws, even till the end of the first book. Some of their behaviours and dialogue lack depth and seem at time quite contrived/stereotypical, though, so hopefully that improves in the next two books.

In terms of story mechanics, the biological vs. mechanical dichotomy explored in the story seemed very one-sided to me early on. How could a huge hydrogen monster which feels so problematic stand up tireless fighting machines of steel? The biological way of battling just seemed terribly troublesome and tedious. Surprisingly, though, Westerfeld eventually balanceed it out by showing the weaknesses of the clankers’ technology and how sometimes the living weapons are better.

Plus, the illustrations are very nice and give a much clearer visualisation of the things described than the redundantly long descriptions.

Just like with Uglies, though, the book had several factors keeping it from greatness.

The entire book is bogged down by unnecessarily long descriptions of the clankers technology; action scenes were dragged far longer than they should have lasted (considering how little action actually goes on in them), although in general the pacing of the book itself is still ok and the plot moves quite fast.

Speaking of which, there isn’t actually much plot. Take away the excessive descriptions and what is left is a very brief tale. Plus, the book ends very abruptly. I know that this is part of a trilogy but still, the first book should always be contained within itself; the “final climatic” scene wasn’t really all that climatic and then it just suddenly ended, which didn’t feel very satisfying.

Overall, it’s a decent (and very fast) read despite the thickness of the book and I’d get to the second entry in time but so far I’ve seen nothing that indicates this series will be any better than Uglies.

Rating: buy/borrow/bin

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