Monday, October 18, 2010

Book Review: Behemoth

(This review contains no significant spoilers for Behemoth but some minor spoilers for Leviathan.)

The Setup

Behemoth is the sequel to Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan, which I reviewed, in short form, early this year. As such, it's a young-adult novel that takes place during an alternate-history World War I. On one side of the war are the Clanker powers, lead by Germany. The Clankers have advanced steampunk---or more precisely, Dieselpunk---technology: walkers and other mechs. On the other side are the Darwinists, lead by Britain. The Darwinisth technology is even more alternate than the Clankers'. In this universe, Darwin not only developed a theory of evolution by natural selection, but also discovered the "chains of life" and kicked off a bioengineering revolution leading to "fabricated" life forms far more advanced than the transgenic tomatoes available in our grocery stores in 2010: whale-zeppelins, hydrogen-sniffing dogs, parrot-lizards, krakens, and fl├ęchette-defecating bats.

As is typical of young-adult books, the main characters are teens. One is a Scots girl masquerading as a boy to serve in the Air Service. The other is a prince, and not just any prince, but the son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. As you might expect, the prince's parents are killed at the beginning of Leviathan, and the rest of that book, Behemoth, and, presumably, the forthcoming Goliath, follow the repercussion of this murder, as the world hurtles toward and enters the largest war ever sen.

What I Liked

  • As I've mentioned, I enjoy steampunk, and Dieselpunk is just as much fun while being perhaps more believable. And walkers shaped like olifants? How cool is that?
  • The fabricated creatures in the book's universe are arguably more creative and interesting than the mechs.
  • The two main characters are well-developed, though I find myself more interested in and sympathetic toward Deryn, the masquerading Scotsgirl.
  • The adults in the story aren't entirely incompetent or uninteresting, as they are in many teen-targeted fiction. In particular, I'd like to know more about Dr. Barlow, the "lady boffin."
  • The plot is interesting and very fast-paced. The book is a pretty rollicking ride from cover to cover.
  • The illustrations by Keith Thompson. There's approximately one drawing per chapter, and I think they help bring the story to life. They are slightly stylized, which seems appropriate.

What I Didn't Like

  • The plot is a little straight-forward. I mean, it's not always obvious what's going to happen next, but I would like there to have been twists and turns.

The Bottom Line

Overall, I give Behemoth 8.0 out of 10. It's a well executed sequel to Leviathan, and a successful one, too. Successful how? I'm already excited about reading Goliath.

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