Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Simon Pulse, 2009
First in series
Summary: Steampunk alternative history of WWI
Thoughts: I've read a lot of good things about this book so I was super excited to get started. It's told from the view points of two characters: British girl Deryn Sharp who is pretending to be Dylan in order to enlist in the army and Alek, (fictional) son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand who is assassinated almost at the beginning thus sparking WWI. Alek is fleeing Austria-Hungary to neutral Switzerland to avoid enemies who want him dead. The story is told so that every two chapters it alternates points of view between the two. Additionally there are incredibly beautiful pictures, in black and white, that illustrate selected scenes.
There are two twists on the book. One is a delight for nerdy history majors (ahem-me); Franz Ferdinand's marriage to Sophie was morganatic meaning that although it produced a daughter and two sons, neither named Alek as he is an entirely fictional creation, none of them could inherit creating a succession crisis in Austria-Hungary. In the book, the pope issues a special decree that would allow Alek to inherit making him very dangerous to those who wanted war.
The other twist is the steampunk aspect. I have never read a steampunk novel although I have some others on my list so I cannot compare. In this case Charles Darwin discovered DNA and has used that knowledge to create enormous creations manipulating the biology of animals including the creation of the titular ship Leviathan which is heading toward the Ottoman Empire with a secret from the British Empire. The Germans and Austrians pushed forward the bounds of technology creating giant machines. I liked this because it reminded me of Modris Ekstein's Rites of Spring that I read earlier which argued for WWI as a clash between German Kultur and British and French civilization. Interestingly there really aren't any mentions of the French in this book.
Now to the characters; Deryn and Alek are both about 15 but they seemed younger to me. I much preferred Alek's sections to Deryn's although most of the reviews I've seen disagreed. Their stories intersect when the Leviathan crashes down near Alek's hideout in Switzerland. They assist and help get the Leviathan back on track. My least favorite section occurs shortly after the crash of the ship where I thought Deryn acted out of character and out of step morally-if you've read it, let me know if you agree!
Overall: Enchanting world that made me want more; I will definitely be reading Behemoth at some point.
Cover: I preferred the map inside the front cover of Europe as well as the illustrations inside to this cover but I really don't like the new cover with the face on front.