Science fiction and fantasy author Voss Foster is here to tell us about a young adult series filled with interesting creatures, a wonderful cast, and plenty of bio- and dieselpunk stuff. Read on to hear his thoughts on The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld.
I have a confession to make: I read books for kids. I know, shocker. Not just the super popular stuff like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games you need to stay culturally relevant, either. We won’t go into my full reading history, but I want to talk about one series. One that really grabbed me, and one that’s just dripping with punk-ish goodness: The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld.
The Good: It’s hard to pinpoint just one good thing about this series. I know, I know, that’s not terribly helpful. I just wanted to mention it. It’s not often I run across a series that I love as wholeheartedly as I did with these books, and this time without the benefit of any nostalgia from my childhood. For starters, with these books, you get two punks for the price of one! Dieselpunk and Biopunk are both strong influences, representing the two sides of World War I. The Clankers use technology for fighting and easing the difficulties of life, whereas the Darwinists utilize fabricated creatures designed for one purpose or another.
That includes the series namesake, the Leviathan itself. A massive air-whale that can match speed with the fastest Zeppelins in the sky. It’s where we spend most of our time during the series, and we see the other fabricated critters that live there. Hydrogen-sniffers to find leaks, flechette bats that… umm… drop the metal spikes they’ve eaten on the enemy, huge hawks to combat the Clanker ships, and the incredible messenger lizards that can precisely mimic human speech.
The characters are just as wonderful as the worldbuilding, too. Our two protagonists are about as different as it gets. Aleksander, the son of Archduke Ferdinand, and Deryn, a Scottish girl who disguises herself as a young man to get into the Air Service. While she proves herself and ends up on the prestigious Leviathan as a midshipman, Aleksander is just trying to survive and keep moving so he doesn’t get attacked the same way his parents did. The travails of the royal life, I guess. Surprise surprise, her secret doesn’t get kept forever. But it does make it through most of the trilogy intact, whichis a nice change of pace.
There are a slew of side-characters as well, including Nikola Tesla himself, but by far my favorite is Dr. Nora Barlow. The head keeper of the London Zoo (which has a lot more significance in this world, trust me), a renowned creature-fabricator, and Charles Darwin’s granddaughter. She’s your classic mysterious character, far too perceptive for the good of the other characters, and more powerful than her position with the Zoological Society would suggest. She’s the first to be suspicious of Deryn, and the first to figure out who Aleksander actually is.
There’s an awful lot more good, so much I can’t properly cover it, but I’m going to move on to the less than wonderful parts. Just trust me that this is a series worth reading.
The Bad: As tends to happen with books for younger audiences, things are a little different than they would be in fiction for adults. Given the situation they’re in—running for their lives, international spying, etc—the language is a little pleasant at times. But that’s not the biggest stumbling block for me. It’s the punches pulled. Specifically, the romantic punch. There’s a young, budding love between Deryn and Aleksander. And it drags on and on and on. Far longer than it realistically should have. The reader knows they’re bound to get together about halfway through the trilogy, but the characters don’t even get close to it until near the end. It’s aggravating, to say the least.
And while we’re talking endings
The Ugly: Oh, the ending. Now, it’s not bad. If it was, I would have used it in the “Bad” section up above. But it is ugly. It’s blocky and lacks the level of satisfaction I want for a three book commitment. Everything wraps up just a little too nicely, and a little too quickly. One second, the whole things is falling apart, and what seems like the very next second, everything’s taken care of. A huge looming problem is just brushed away instead of handled and, just like with the romance, it’s aggravating. But it certainly doesn’t ruin the books. Not in any sense of the word. It would take a lot more than a bit of an unfortunate ending to do that. I give these books a glowing recommendation, especially if you’re a fan of dieselpunk and/or biopunk. Not the most common punk-genres, so seeing them so well-represented is wonderful.
Voss Foster lives in the middle of the Eastern Washington desert, where he writes science fiction and fantasy from inside a single-wide trailer. He is the author of the Evenstad Media Presents series, The King Jester Trilogy, The Mountains of Good Fortune, and the Immortal Whispers Series. When he can be pried away from his keyboard, he can be found singing, practicing photography, cooking, and belly dancing, though rarely all at the same time.
Somehow, between his writing, singing, photography, cooking, and dancing, Voss still has time to connect with fans and he’d love to hear from you. You can catch up with him on his website, Facebook, or Twitter. Be sure to swing by Amazon and check out his work.