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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Review: Behemoth (Leviathan #2) by Scott Westerfeld



Behemoth (Leviathan #2)Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book in the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, a steampunk YA series revolving around an alternate WWI Europe. Middle books in a series tend to slump, but this proved an exception to that tendency.

Behemoth brings the crew of the Leviathan to its destination of Istanbul (not Constantinople, as the text reminds us several times. I don't know if Westerfeld is a They Might Be Giants fan). Like Leviathan, it leaps straight into the action, with a skirmish against German Clanker technology. They go up against a Tesla cannon, which projects electricity. In their hydrogen-breathing airship, such a weapon could prove deadly, but the ship's Austrian engineers think quickly, and they evade the lightning.

We learn in this book the true purpose of the Leviathan's journey to the Ottoman Empire, as well as the numerous contingency plans put together by Dr. Nora Barlow, a Darwinist scientist constantly referred to as "the lady boffin." Boffin is a slang term for British fabricators, scientists who splice creatures together to make something more useful for wartime. This book, like Leviathan before it, is chock full of creative slang and swearing, though Deryn, our resourceful heroine, also picks up the German dummkopf, and uses it liberally.

We also learn what's in the eggs, though the creature's usefulness doesn't become apparent until late in the book. Even then, it doesn't seem as valuable as Dr. Barlow makes it out to be.

Most of the action revolves around a revolution to overthrow the German-sympathetic sultan. Alek escapes the ship, while Deryn finds herself stranded in Istanbul after her secret mission has some unforeseen complications. Several more characters learn that Deryn is a girl disguised as a boy, and Deryn gets a (female) love interest, much to her dismay.

The book is told through Alek's and Deryn's perspectives. Often, my only clue about whose perspective I was reading was whether they referred to Deryn by her real name or as Dylan, her male alter ego. They even have the same mental shorthands for other characters. It may have been to illustrate how they're of the same mind or how close they were, but it was often confusing.

Overall, I found this book entertaining and fun and fast-paced. And, I appreciated the section at the end acknowledging the changes made to the real history for this book's sake. I know very little about the history and politics of 1914, so I found it useful.

I listened to an audio edition, narrated by the delightful Alan Cumming. I highly recommend this format. He's a dynamic narrator, with an array of accents at his disposal. He turns the experience of reading this book into pure entertainment.


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