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Leviathan – A Taste of Steampunk

Originally posted on Sat, Aug 28 2010 at ROPL.org.

What is steampunk? It’s a genre of science fiction and fantasy that mixes together our pasts with our possible futures. The worlds may resemble our own, only instead of coal, everything’s run on steam. Or they may be completely different from our own. Scott Westerfeld’s young adult novel, Leviathanfalls somewhere in the middle. The world is familiar; the setting (just before World War I) from our past; but the machinery is unlike our own.

Westerfeld’s two main characters, a prince named Alek and a young midshipman named Deryn, are from two different worlds. Deryn is a Darwinist (who use real creatures as their ships, and so on) and Alek is a Clanker (who uses steam-powered machines that are similar, in some ways, to those of our past). Westerfeld mixes reality with fiction to create a masterful, engrossing novel about two teens who must fight to survive.

His novel is more than just an adventure story. It’s about war, about love, about family. And, of course, about coming of age. Deryn wants nothing more than to be able to fly, but because she’s a girl, she must pretend to be a boy in order to fulfill her dream. Alek, on the other hand, is a prince (the son of Archduke Ferdinand – a name we’re all familiar with in connection with World War I). He too must hide who he is, by pretending to be a commoner instead of the royalty he is.

The book is fun, with hints of sadness and fear (the loss of Alek’s parents, the fear  they’ll be found by the Germans, Deryn’s worry that she’ll be exposed as a girl) that keep things exciting. Alek and Deryn do eventually meet and by the end of the novel, we’re left wanting more. Luckily, the squel toLeviathan (called Behemoth) will be released in early October of 2010.

If you like Leviathan, or if you want to read more in the steampunk genre, check out our display in the library. Here are some titles to get you started:

Young Adult

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series
Airborn and Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel
Lamplighter by D.M. Cornish
City of Ember and People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau
Fullmetal Alchemist (manga series) by Hiromu Arakawa
Un Lun Dun by China Mievelle

Adult

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear
The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
The Scar by China Mieville
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia

Classics

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
The Time Machine by HG Wells
War of the Worlds by HG Wells

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