Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I learned a few things about reading and 8th grade students in the last month, and my brain is reprocessing it as I begin to move through Scott Westerfeld books:
a) adolescents read and enjoy a good series
b) many series that my students have liked are built from the sci-fi or fantasy genres
c) steampunk is a sub-genre designed for adolescents...particularly boys
One of my commitments in my burgeoning summer book pile is to read several series that my students are reading. Among those are two by Scott Westerfeld: The Leviathan Trilogy and The Uglies series--both earned the critical and finicky Kirkus Star.
Book One of the Leviathan Trilogy, Leviathan, reminds me of The Golden Compass--an fantastical adventure. And lots of snow and ice.
I read Leviathan in under 24 hours and many disparate thoughts are jostling for space-time on the blog, so I'm going to list the thoughts in no particular order:
a) the Rosalind-esque device of girl disguised as boy (having budding feelings for a boy) has always been popular and is done well in this book...the whisper of a romantic element is very faint but present.
b) alternate history needs as open (young?) mind...so much is built on the actual events of 1914 that Leviathan serves as good exposure to people, places, and ideas for young readers
i. the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife by Serbian revolutionaries
ii. the assassinations led to war between Austria and Serbia
iii. the war between Austria and Serbia led to World War I
iv. the conspiracy theory that Germany coaxed Serbia into the assassinations to kick-start the war
v. Charles Darwin's discoveries and modern biology
vi. the development of fabricating new life through DNA
vii. Nora Darwin Barlow
viii. the now extinct thylacine (or Tasmanian Tiger)
Again, the novel is a good way for young people to hear the names and the basic ideas behind them, but it is not an exhaustive lesson in biology or the vagaries of the diplomacy between England, France, Germany and friends during the summer of 1914. (We wouldn't want all of the facts to get in the way of a good story).
c) some of the magic in the book is the message that eco-systems are fragile, but can work together to improve our life and plant--the importance placed on bees, pollen, and birds cannot be denied, and given the current dangers for bees in our natural world it is nice to see them get some positive press in a novel.
d) unfamililar with "steampunk" it took a little getting used to, but I can understand why adolescent boys can enjoy it...a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy that includes social or technological aspects of the 19th century (the steam) usually with some deconstruction of, reimagining of, or rebellion against parts of it. In Leviathan the world seems to be divided between the Darwinist and the Clankers--Darwinists have fabricated new life forms (an enormous dirigible which is a cross between a whale, bees, bats, cilia, and many other species)--Clankers build machines resembling those from the early twentieth century, but with a bit of a twist.
e) I appreciate that human virtues are at the core of problem-solving in this novel: trust, friendship, loyalty to name a few.
A very likable novel, and one worthy of a place on your classroom library shelf, that may grow into a book you really like or love because it may inspire your boys to read...a series.
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