Leviathan (Leviathan, #1)Leviathan is the fantastical historical fiction where WWII is between the Darwinist and the Clankers. I really wanted to love this book. It’s got a lot of guys reading, teacher’s excited, tons of positive things. Truth is I’m not feeling it, I’m trudging through reading a few pages at a time- forcing myself to go back to it. I just realized I’m at the halfway point, groaned and thought if it’s a chore to read I need to move on.

This is not a failure on Westerfeld’s part! It’s not that it’s a terrible book, in fact it has a lot going for it (that I’ll outline in a minute). The thing is that I don’t like war stories, and I don’t care about the mechanics of how things work. I don’t care why a car works if it does, I don’t care how a TV shows me images recorded across the world. This book is aimed at people who are interested in war and ships and the mechanics of things. People who like that, will like it.

Here’s what the book does right:

  • Strong female characters. Scott Westerfeld writes female characters the way female authors do. I love that about him. I can’t think of any male author I’ve read lately that does such a good job at portraying gender dynamics in a patriarchical society. I noticed this in the Uglies series too. 
  • Class barriers. Alek was ignorant of how the people in his country lived, just as they are ignorant of the politics his family were involved with. Can a politician do a good job without knowing the plight of the people? Can the people vote without understanding the political issues? Westerfeld makes me think about it (politics lesson potential?) My favourite quote from the book is about Alek’s disconnect from his people;

“He spoke French, English, and Hungarian fluently, and always impressed his tutors in Latin and Greek. But Prince Aleksandar of Hohenberg could barely manage the daily language of his own people well enough to buy a newspaper.”(125)

This is the kind of thing that makes me love Westerfeld, the big ideas about society.

  • Simplification of grand concepts for teens. Dr. Barlow’s recognition of the similarities between the cat, mice, bees, flowers idea and the war in Europe (195).

Here’s where he loses me

  • The Beasties: While I love animals and find the concept of genetic engineering intriguing, the beasties in this book give me the heebie-jeebies! I would be on the other side of the war, one of the close minded Monkey Luddites they make fun of in the book. I don’t think constructing living beings for our convenience is right. Being inside the living ship would creep me out to no end and I wonder how much that poor beast suffers having a crew control it? These are the good guys creating these monsters? I didn’t finish the book or the series, so maybe not in the long run.
  • The Machines: again in theory, kind of cool. In practice, I don’t want to hear that much about them.
  • The Pacing: I feel like hardly anything happened in the first half of the book. So much was put into creating the world that the action dragged. YA books are usually pretty quickly paced, this dragged for me.


I’m an old fuddy duddy woman who isn’t the target audience. I can see why the young guys are eating this up, and my props to Westerfeld who I can see has talent. It’s just not my thing and there are so many books I want to read in my TBR pile that I’m moving on. I really wanted to love this book 😦 but we can’t choose who or what we love.


3 thoughts on “Leviathan

  1. I love reading your blog because you always post such thoughtful reviews, Steph! I reacted similarly to this novel at first. I found it challenging to get into but I did manage to read it through to the end. Those Beasties gave me the heebie-jeebies, too…but I have to admit, I kind of loved the steampunk-y aspects. The artwork is also really cool. I also loved the Dr. Barlow character, and the whole portrayal of gender dynamics in the book in very well done (as you said).

  2. thanks Erin! I feel like this is a story that might be more suited to a graphic novel or movie, I like steampunky visuals. I can’t believe I forgot to talk about the art, that was really cool.

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