by Scott Westerfeld
In A Nutshell
When we think World War I, we think trench warfare, Franz Ferdinand, and War Horse. When Leviathan's author, Scott Westerfeld, thinks World War I, though, he thinks colossal beasties fabricated out of the DNA of multiple species patrolling the skies, steam-powered walkers dominating the land, and secrets. Lots and lots of secrets. Come to think of it, the secrets part is true of almost any war.
Leviathan is set in an alternate reality where Darwinists (the folks with the beasties) align against Clankers (the folks with the walkers) for a massive world war. It's still 1914, and there are still entangling alliances (another thing we think of when we think of World War I), but this is World War I like we've never seen it before. Like, ever.
Published in 2009, Leviathan is the first book in a trilogy that covers the early days of World War I in this very different world. Westerfeld usually sticks to science fiction, and there's plenty of that on display here, along with a healthy dose of history and a suggestion of romance to boot.
World War I might seem like a thing of the past, but in Westerfeld's hands, it's a fantastical tale for the ages.
Why Should I Care?
World War I is older than your grandpa, so what can it possibly have to do with you? Plenty—just ask any historian you meet how World War I gave birth to the modern era; we assure you they'll have plenty to say in response.
But Leviathan isn't a history book, and it's not even straight-up historical fiction. So for our purposes, let's take a look at a common wartime activity: keeping secrets. Like, giant ones. Ever felt like you had to sit on a bombshell? For yourself, for a friend, or for your country? Our two protagonists know what it's like to keep secrets, especially about themselves.
Ever been a prince on the run, hiding your whereabouts from the great-uncle who had your parents assassinated? No? Us neither (sorry to disappoint). What about trying to hide your identity from anyone who happens to be looking? Unless you're James Bond, probably not, although on second thought, James Bond loves to tell people who he is (Bond, James Bond).
Extreme circumstances aside though, have you ever felt like the more you hide the truth, the more complicated things get, and the more you have to lie? We're betting the answer is yes to that one, and Prince Aleksander of Hohenberg knows exactly how you felt. Big time.
We're lucky that these days, women have a lot more freedom to do what they want and don't have to disguise themselves as men in order to join the military. Still, if you've ever had to hide something about yourself in order to do what you want to do, talk to Deryn Sharp, who has to disguise herself as a boy in order to fly.
Everyone on the Leviathan has a secret, and they know secrets can weigh you down like gold bars on an airship. So hop aboard, and lay those burdens down.