Review – Leviathan – Scott Westerfeld


Hello Internet. Welcome back for Review #38. Ahh yes, don’t you just love the sweet smell of Steampunk in the Morning? This review is borne from the true absence of inspiration that I seem to have run into, and so I have decided to have fun with something easy to get involved in.

Leviathan is the kind of novel us serious book critics read when they have run out of steam (bad pun intended). We hit the metaphorical brick wall of a mind-blank, and we decide to hang all intention of continuing reviewing in a reasonable fashion to go devour something fun and mindless then dissect its still-warm corpse. And while in the middle of Uglies and chewing through Afterworldspoorly-tied together narrative duality I take a look at this prolific author’s library of titles and pick one which I consider genuinely fun to read, which is a hot, steaming mess of steampunk, dieselpunk and biopunk with a setting in a war nobody really understands.

So Leviathan is just fun. That’s innately why I picked the series. Westerfeld occasionally has an addictively readable style, like in Zeroes (which might not have been because of him) and of course in Leviathan. And I went through the trilogy like the Flash does everything. Quickly. I hardly read anything else during the time I read Leviathan. And that, in and of itself, is something which should show how fun I found this book. The characters are witty and clever, the scenarios are interesting and awesome, the world genuinely looks like an MMO setting and I whooped with delight at the introduction of a cool new creepy-crawly or clanking behemoth (ah, the puns).

But I think Westerfeld might have the wrong idea about how this series was meant to be received. As a person in the target audience (that’s YA fiction), I wanted to have a romp through a comical version of the First World War with cool and awesome characters and kick-ass goliaths of fighting machines (don’t stop me now…). Westerfeld wants his books to be as much a dissection of the political causes of the First World War instead of a loving homage to pre-atomic-age giant robots/monsters. Which is perfectly fine and reverent if the topic of discussion is how war is hell and people die thanks to no reason in particular. But this book is actually about pre-atomic-age giant robots/monsters. So Westerfeld’s themes seem to clash with the intended purpose of the book.

So beside a cross-dressing, ass-kicking girl who joins the British army and her love affair with an escaped and wimpy heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there are complex political discussions with important moral factors that are interesting in their own right but completely and utterly out-of-place when faced with the huge jaws of a mutated sabre-toothed tiger. It’s this sort of thematic whiplash which confuses the hell out of me, because if I wanted complicated and completely fictional political discussions I would finish A Song of Ice and Fire. Or, become up to date with A Song of Ice and Fire, then leak spoilers on the internet for all the peasants who don’t have too much time on their hands and no other factors in their life which dictate the amount of free reading time they have. Hey, I’m allowed to be scum!

Leviathan was published in 2009 by Simon Pulse. It can be found on Amazon here.

Yours: J.M. Pear

Review – Leviathan – Scott Westerfeld

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